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From damage limitation to Curtly imitation

Michael Vaughan said that today was going to be the biggest day of the series - that England must not allow West Indies to bounce back from their Sabina shocker. And while it was the man of the moment, Steve Harmison, who made sure that didn't happen, Vaughan himself should take some of the credit as well.

Harmison was too short early on, and Chris Gayle and Devon Smith capitalised. The key to his Sabina seven was bowling at that lethal length which caught the batsmen in two minds. England weren't quite on their knees heading towards lunch, but they were close to it. Matthew Hoggard, as he usually does, struggled when there's not much swing, while Andrew Flintoff toiled hard - but at the moment he seldom takes wickets even when he's bowling well. Vaughan could have gone for the safe, steady option in Hoggard or Flintoff to consolidate before lunch. But he went for the right choice in Harmison. Rather than damage limitation, it was the start of another Curtly imitation.

With a switch of ends and a slight shift in length, Harmison grabbed three quick wickets to kick-start England into life, and reopen those fresh West Indian wounds. Harmison has nailed Gayle three times out of three in the series now, and today was the most important, given Gayle's ability to score quickly. Smith was undone, again by that fuller length, and then Brian Lara didn't fancy a short one, especially with that dodgy finger. It was purposeful bowling, and ten minutes which swung the balance of the day.

There was no better example of the new improved Harmison than the way he dismissed Dwayne Smith. Give him a few short ones and then slip in the fuller one; it's the oldest trick in the book, but you still need the cards to play it, and Harmison is getting ever closer to having all the aces. He didn't let Smith settle, and his final horrible hoick illustrated the persistent pressure. By then the crowd was almost expecting a wicket every ball, and Flintoff's muted celebrations of Ramnaresh Sarwan's demise suggested it was all a bit too easy.

The sight of a depressed Lara with his head in his hands after Dwayne Smith's dismissal summed up everything about West Indian cricket at the moment. Not just their performance today, but the whole shebang. With former players criticising the set-up, the board and the team, as Desmond Haynes did in the press today, it's not a cosy Caribbean at the moment for the current team. But there's still a long way to go for England, and if they are to retain the Wisden Trophy they need one of their inexperienced bowlers to mature, and Harmison is looking very much like he's the man.

Today's two rain-breaks suited England, giving the bowlers time to rest and then make the most of the conditions. It was no coincidence that West Indies were at their best when the sun was beating down on their backs early on. But perhaps the heavens are just hoping for even more Harmy - he's certainly on Cloud Nine at the moment.

Freddie Auld, Wisden Cricinfo's assistant editor, is following England's fortunes in Jamaica and Trinidad.