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December 18, 2007
Steve Harmison was knackered but content at the close of a draining first day at Galle. Although play was restricted to a mere 55 overs, the heat and humidity were as oppressive as he has ever known in his 56-Test career. It was not a day for the faint-hearted - which, in the not-so-distant past, might have included Harmison himself. And yet, for the second innings running, he was the pick of a committed England attack. It's been quite a turnaround in form, fortune and most of all, attitude.
"I've come to the conclusion I'm going to smile rather than let things get on top of me," said Harmison, as he laughed and joked his way through an upbeat press conference. "That's all I'm going to do. I've stopped beating myself up, I've tried to stay positive and tried to make the most of it. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. But if you get three wickets on a hot day in Galle, then well done."
Well done indeed. Without Harmison's hard-earned interventions, England might well have squandered a golden opportunity to level the series. As it is, they are still not as well placed as the early-morning conditions suggested that they should have been. But Sri Lanka's coach, Trevor Bayliss, admitted that his team had been intending to bowl first as well, on a Galle track that has been the subject of so many setbacks that no one really had a clue how it might play. If the pitch bakes hard for England's innings before crumbling when Sri Lanka's second turn comes about, then a first-day scoreline of 147 for 4 might yet prove to be crucial.
Even so, Harmison admitted that England had let their advantage slip early in the day, when they misjudged the tactics needed for success on such a track. "Sometimes when you see the amount of rain we've had here, and the amount of time that wicket has been under covers, and how damp it was, and you get three quick bowlers with a brand new Kookaburra in their hands after the captain's won the toss and bowled - you start clapping your hands and thinking wickets.
"But sometimes that can go the opposite way, and to be honest it did," said Harmison. "We bowled full but we floated it. We had a chat at lunchtime, and decided we needed to hit the deck a bit more, or if we did bowl full, we had to bowl with some purpose. So we came out and did that, and the rest of the day was a lot better. But that's what happens when your captain wins the toss and bowls - sometimes you go 50 for 5, sometimes it's 80 for 1."
|"We bowled full but we floated it. We had a chat at lunchtime, and decided we needed to hit the deck a bit more, or if we did bowl full, we had to bowl with some purpose. So we came out and did that, and the rest of the day was a lot better" - Steve Harmison|
Overall, Harmison felt that the pitch had not quite played to England's expectations. "When it did things this morning it did it big, so that if the batsman played down the line he was never going to hit it," he said. "But since then, it's not done that much. For the last four overs I bowled cross-seam, and that seemed to skid the ball on a little bit, with the odd one bouncing from round the wicket. It probably didn't do as much as we thought, but they are 140 for 4, so we've got to be happy."
For all his efforts, Harmison did give England a scare at the end of his eighth over, when he trudged towards the dressing room, looking as though he'd suffered another back spasm. The truth, however, was rather more mundane. "I was knackered," he said. "I couldn't breathe, so I had to go off. That middle session of an hour and a half was real hard work, as tough as it has been in Test cricket."
Harmison declared that England were very happy with the way their day had gone, after a build-up to the match that, while full of emotion and significance, was not exactly ideal for Test cricketers. "We still had a Test match to play, and to win, and I thought we've been very professional so far in doing what we've done," said Harmison. "What happened three years ago was a horrendous time for these people, and what's happened in this last 48 hours probably wasn't the best preparation for us. But the game had to be played today. It had to be played no matter what, and it's great for England that we did well and hopefully put on a good spectacle for the Sri Lankans."
Harmison has now emerged with honours from two of the toughest days of cricket he's ever been put through, and with his confidence restored, he was able to look back objectively at his performances in an eventful year. "I'll always do what I have to do, and if it's good enough, it's good enough. It hasn't been good enough for the last 12 months, but it's hopefully going to get better and better."
Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala