Darren Gough, the former England fast bowler, has criticised England's insistence that Steve Harmison must prove his fitness and form before securing a place on the plane to Sri Lanka.

Harmison, who has been recovering from a back injury, wasn't among the squad of 15 named yesterday for England's three-Test tour of Sri Lanka. However, if he doesn't have any adverse reaction to his brief stint at Lions in South Africa, he could yet join up with the team.

This, however, does not sit well with Gough who feels Harmison is being treated unfairly.

"Steve is such a vital bowler for England and he has proved time and time again how good he is," Gough told the Northern Echo. "He brings something different to everyone else and he is a must for me in the England team.

"He is a match winner and with (Matthew) Hoggard also coming back, England will go into Sri Lanka with a very good bowling line up, with everyone vying for a spot desperate to do well and win."

Harmison will travel to South Africa with England's recently appointed bowling coach, Ottis Gibson - a man who Gough insists is key to "firing" up Harmison.

"Ottis has already shown what influence he can have on the bowlers and I have no doubt he is the man to get Steve firing," Gough said. "He has got all the qualifications, played at Test level and he knows what the international game is all about.

"All I want is for Steve to come out firing on all cylinders. We want him running through brick walls for England and hopefully he will come out and prove to everyone how good he is because he is one of our best bowlers."