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England cricket

October 8, 2013

Harmison, the enforcer

Ross Lawson

Steve Harmison is all smiles after his double strike, England v Australia, 5th Test, The Oval, 4th day, August 23, 2009
Steve Harmison the bowler was admired and pretty much feared, but was also known to err extravagantly © PA Photos
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"Jones … Bowden … Kasprowicz the man to go. And Harmison has done it … Despair on the faces of the batsmen. And joy for every English player on the field."

Do you remember that? Of course you do. It was Edgbaston 2005, the dulcet tones of Richie Benaud bringing what was dubbed the "greatest Test of all time" to an end.

There is an argument that without that win, English cricket would not be what it is today. If that is the case, then Steve Harmison deserves a lot the plaudits. It was he who delivered that bouncer - it was Harmison, it had to be a bouncer - which Michael Kasprowicz got a slight glove on. Out or not out is a debate for another day.

If that Harmison wicket was somewhat lucky, then the previous was a stroke of pure genius.

"Oh, Steven Harmison, with a slower ball, one of the great balls. Given the moment, given the batsman, and given the match, that is a staggering gamble that's played off…"

Mark Nicholas was the man with the microphone on this occasion, as a Harmison breached the defences of Michael Clarke to put England back in the ascendancy on the third evening. The conductor of chin music had other strings to his bow.

It is all too easy for us to get wrapped up in that moment. It was the game that inspired many of us to get into cricket - the thrilling highs you can get from a sport that, can you believe it, takes place over five days. But Harmison was much more than Edgbaston, much more than the five wickets on the first day of the series, and much more than that scar on Ricky Ponting's cheek.

Having made his debut for Durham back in 1996, Harmison spent almost the entirety of his county career with Durham, with the exception of three first-class games for Yorkshire at the back end of the 2012 season. His stint was more of a necessity for the Headingley-based side rather than a concerted attempt to give Harmison a send-off, although he did chip in with eight wickets in the three games, including those of Wes Durston and Ramnaresh Sarwan (twice) before Matthew Boyce became his final first-class wicket.

Harmison's international debut came in 2002 as he replaced the injured Simon Jones for the second Test against India at Trent Bridge. His work ethic, as it was for most of his career, was faultless. He bowled 49 overs in the match, claiming five wickets as the most economical bowler in the side. Oh, and he bowled the Indian captain Sourav Ganguly for 99. Not bad, eh? It wasn't enough for Harmison to keep his place at Headingley, though, a fact he may have been relieved about in hindsight, as England was humbled at Leeds.

His international career then hit a steady rise, and featured one of the best bowling spells in history which saw him take 7 for 12 to humiliate West Indies as they were bowled out for 47 in Jamaica. Brian Lara made a duck and Harmison finished with 23 wickets at an average of just over 14 in that series, ten points better than anyone else. He was named Man of the Series, although his epic performance was somewhat overshadowed by Lara's record 400 not out in the drawn final Test of the series.

"On his day, he is one of the most awkward bowlers [to face] in the world", Shane Warne said, a fact Harmison proved in 2004 and later in the Ashes. He was known and admired, and pretty much feared at six foot four, with a bouncer that perhaps only Brett Lee can compete with in the modern era. However, as with Lee, Harmison was known to err extravagantly. Andrew Flintoff, his captain for the 2006-07 Ashes, could attest to both as the first ball of the series flew into his hands at slip - only it had hit nothing on the way through. That ball set the tone for a poor series for Harmison, who averaged 61 for each of his ten wickets, despite 4 for 48 in Perth.

From there onwards Harmison's career provided brief highlights, domestic honours taking centre stage as he guided Durham to back-to-back County Championships in 2008 and 2009, finishing both campaigns as their leading wicket-taker and third overall. In fact, that first Championship win for Durham in 2008 was the "proudest moment in his career", according to a statement provided by him in an interview with Darren Gough on talkSPORT radio.

Back on the international stage, Harmison recorded his best Test score of 49 not out against South Africa in 2008, narrowly missing out on his half-century after partner Monty Panesar was run out. His international career did not finish until 2009 though, in the last Ashes Test match. In that game he took three lower-order wickets before leaving it to Graeme Swann to pick up the final one of Michael Hussey.

A final farewell in the county arena was not to be for Harmison, who did not play a first-class game for Durham in their 2013 title victory, before he became the third of England's destructive 2005 quartet to hang up his boots - ironically, the always injured Simon Jones is the one who remains, though only in Twenty20. But Harmison has done his fair share of enforcing and will look forward to getting his feet up, spending time with his family, and trying his best to hide his goosebumps when he watches the highlights from the "greatest Test". Just like the rest of us then.

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