Thursday, August 7, 2008

Relaxed Harmison delivers the goods

Steve Harmison bounded back into Test cricket with a performance that, by his own admission, was his best for more than a year, as England belatedly demonstrated the full range of their firepower on the first day of the fourth Test at The Oval. By the close they had bowled South Africa out for 194 and responded with a scoreline of 49 for 1, an effort that enabled Kevin Pietersen to ease himself into his new role as England captain.
England's leading wicket-taker on the day was James Anderson, whose three-wicket haul included his 100th in Tests, but Harmison was the star of the show. His first over included a first-ball dropped catch and a split lip for his own wicketkeeper, Tim Ambrose, and he later followed that up with two wickets in two balls, including a 92.9mph yorker to demolish Hashim Amla's middle stump.
Harmison's performance was a throwback to his glory years of 2004 and 2005, and defied the predictions that had followed his limp display at Hamilton back in March, after which he was banished from the side for eight consecutive games. While most observers felt at the time that he would never play for England again, Harmison was not among that number, and he admitted that the buzz of playing for his country was something that he had missed during his exile. 
Much of Harmison's renewed vigour comes from a lengthy stint in county cricket with Durham, where he has finally enjoyed regular outings with upwards of 500 overs under his belt already this season, including 43 wickets from nine Championship fixtures. It is the most he has bowled in years - under Duncan Fletcher, England's pacemen were routinely rested between internationals, while his 2007 season was interrupted by a hernia operation that ruled him out of the second half of the summer.
Perhaps more important than the rhythm that he has picked up, however, has been the break from the spotlight, and the chance to groove his action without the pressure to perform that comes when the cameras are watching your every move.
The break from the front line worked wonders for Harmison on this first day back. He was entrusted with the new ball by his new captain, Pietersen, and responded with a first over that set the tone for the day.
It is, however, a moot point whether Harmison can follow this first-day performance with the sort of sustained aggression that once made him the most feared bowler in the world. Nevertheless, the signs are good from a player whose body language is a window to his soul.
- CricVille -
Sandesh Kumar Jaggi
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