England in South Africa 2009-10 October 8, 2009

Only Harmison can judge his career - Gibson

Ottis Gibson, the England bowling coach, believes only Steve Harmison can decide whether he is satisfied with an international career that appears to have come to an end after he was omitted from the tour of South Africa. Harmison was the most notable absentee from the 16-man squad and the general consensus is that it draws a line under his England career - seven weeks after he helped regain the Ashes at The Oval.

However, Harmison's three wickets in that match was typical of the bit-part performances he has produced in the last four years. Since 2005 he has provided one truly match-winning display - against Pakistan at Old Trafford in 2006 - with the next-best effort coming against South Africa, again at The Oval, last year. Gibson has faced at first hand the challenges of dealing with Harmison's inconsistent displays, but knows only the man himself can say whether he has done himself justice.

"He's still a top class bowler on his day," Gibson told Cricinfo. "He's still capable of bowling high end 80mph so he'll have to sit down in the winter and evaluate what his next step is and stuff like that but I've no doubt he's still a quality performer.

"Steve will have to sit down and decide whether he has got the best out of himself when he's played for England. There are times when he has done, obviously, and he's won Tests for England but there have been times when he's not been as good as he could have been. All the time I've worked with him he's always listened and taken on board what you say. He'll have to sit down and decide whether he's been as good for England as he could have been."

Gibson believes Harmison's public admittance that he was reluctant to tour Australia next winter will have been factored into the decision not to take him to South Africa. He also issued an ultimatum that he wouldn't want to tour and then carry the drinks.

"Harmy said at some point, and Geoff Miller said it again today, that he wasn't keen to go to Australia next year so perhaps the selectors have looked at the evidence and decided now is as good a time as any to look to the future."

Harmison's place has been taken by Durham team-mate, Liam Plunkett, who enjoyed his most productive season with 60 first-class wickets at 23.35. Plunkett is a player Gibson knows well from his days at Chester-le-Street and feels he is now better prepared to face the challenges of international cricket than when first plucked out in 2006 by Duncan Fletcher.

"He was picked at a very young age and international cricket is a very hard place to go and learn your game," he said. "By the time you get there you have to have a good idea of what you are about and know yourself a little bit. He got found out a little bit, but he's had time to go back to county cricket and develop a little more.

"The selectors have looked at his performances this year and have decided he is ready again. My role in all this is to help him to settle back into the international environment very quickly when we get to South Africa and give him every chance of performing to his potential."

As Plunkett returns to the Test squad, another quick who was picked as a raw tearaway - Lancashire's Sajid Mahmood - has been recalled to the one-day set-up. He last appeared at the 2007 World Cup before being jettisoned back to the domestic game, but Gibson believes it's important that players are given time to learn at county level.

"At 18, 19, 20 or whatever you may have displayed some potential, but for that to turn into performances you have to practice it first," he said. "The only way to do that, to get better and know what you are capable of, is to practice in county cricket. It's the next best thing to Test cricket. Hopefully they are now ready to come back and will know a lot more about themselves than they did two or three years ago."

This winter marks a changing of the guard for England's pace attack - especially in the Test arena - with Harmison being left behind and Andrew Flintoff now retired from the five-day game. Gibson admits Flintoff was a "massive player" and is tough to replace but sees it as an opportunity for others to make a name for themselves.

"The likes of Anderson are developing nicely to help fill that hole," he said. "Anderson is now one of the best bowlers in the world, Broad is improving all the time, Sidebottom is a very, very good bowler. Plunkett has come back into the mix, Graham Onions has come into international cricket and doesn't look out of place and he's shown really good signs.

"Some people will think that missing Flintoff and Harmison is a big deal but we don't see it as a big deal, we see it as an opportunity for other people to step up. Hopefully the guys who have been given their chance this winter will help us win Test matches."

Ottis Gibson was promoting the Sky Sports ECB Coach Education Programme, which has trained 13,000 coaches in two years.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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