Stephen James Harmison
October 23, 1978, Ashington, Northumberland
Right hand bat
Right arm fast medium
Ashington High School
With his lofty, loose-limbed gait and his painful capacity for jamming fingers against bat-handles, Steve Harmison had for some time been drawing tongue-in-cheek comparisons to the great Curtly Ambrose, when suddenly, in Jamaica in March 2004, he loped in to produce a spell of irresistible fast bowling that Ambrose himself could hardly have bettered. West Indies were blown away for 47, and Harmison's figures of 7 for 12 were the best in Tests at Sabina Park. It was a stunning riposte from a man who, only months earlier, had flown home injured from England's tour of Bangladesh with whispers about his diffidence chasing him all the way. But as much as Jamaica 2004 set the benchmark, Brisbane 2006 proved a low point as his opening delivery of the Ashes series went straight to Andrew Flintoff at second slip and his desire was once again questioned.
Harmison, who was born in Ashington - the Northumberland village where the footballing Charlton brothers first saw the light of day - was barely 20 when he went with England A to South Africa in 1998-99, but after that he was held back by a series of niggling injuries - including somehow dislocating his shoulder when he caught his hand in his trouser pocket while bowling - and a tendency to fall homesick when confined to barracks on overseas tours. He eventually broke into the Test team in mid-2002, after an injury to another tearaway, Simon Jones, but for a long time he was no better than promising, with a tendency to mix magical spells with moments when the radar would go badly awry. But, in the Caribbean, the spiritual home of the fast bowler, he seemed to have finally come of age.
This was born out in the 2004 Test series against West Indies and New Zealand, where he plundered wickets aplenty as England completed a 7-0 clean sweep. But in South Africa the following winter, the doubts crept back in and after ending a miserable Test series with a niggling calf strain, he admitted to the press that he had been hoping to fail his fitness test in order to be allowed home early. Against Bangladesh the following summer, he took a cathartic five-wicket haul in front of his home crowd in Durham, before tearing into Australia's top-order with five wickets on the first morning of the Ashes series at Lord's. He couldn't secure victory on that occasion, but popped up with the most vital strike of his life one Test later, to seal a thrilling two-run win at Edgbaston and set England on their way to an historic Ashes triumph.
Persistent shin problems hampered his form for the rest of the year, but against Pakistan at Old Trafford in July 2006, he was back to his rampant best, taking 11 wickets in a thumping innings win. That didn't last as his one-day nightmares continued at the Champions Trophy and he entered the first Test at Brisbane woefully short of match fitness. The result was that wide which, as much as his striking of Justin Langer at Lord's in 2005, set the tone for the series. Harmison was anonymous for the first two Tests before finally showing some form in the final three matches - but by then it was too late. After the Perth defeat handed the Ashes back to Australia, Harmison announced his retirement from ODIs, a decision he'd made after the Champions Trophy. It continued to leave more questions than answers. A reputation, and a career, hung in the balance and although he began 2007 in fine style for Durham, his winter nightmares continued to hamper him in the opening Tests against West Indies. A back injury ended his summer prematurely and, in October, was asked by the England management to prove his fitness and form by playing in South African domestic cricket. He came through the subsequent tour of Sri Lanka with credit, despite missing the first Test with back problems, but he was dropped one Test later in New Zealand, after an abject display in a humiliating England defeat at Hamilton.
After being sent back to Durham, he found fiery form for his county and earned a recall for the fourth Test against South Africa. Following a successful return to international colours at The Oval, he was subsequently persuaded by new captain Kevin Pietersen to come out of one-day retirement to face South Africa, and he even went to Antigua to take part in the Stanford Super Series. But before the winter was out the doubts about his commitment had resurfaced once again. He played a peripheral role as England reclaimed the Ashes in the summer of 2009 - returning only for the final two Tests - and when he subsequently lost his ECB central contract and ditched for the tour of South Africa, most observers assumed that this time, it really was the end.
Harmison continued to perform for Durham, albeit inconsistently, and he was rewarded for his contribution to the county's success when he was awarded a benefit in 2013, recognition of his role in two County Championship titles, in 2008 and 2009, when he was leading wicket-taker on both occasions.
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