Harmison gamble may dash Broad's hopes of England call

By PAUL NEWMAN

Last updated at 23:23 07 December 2007


England must today

decide whether to gamble

on the flawed genius

of Steve Harmison or

the youthful promise of

Stuart Broad in a Test they

cannot afford to lose.

Matthew Hoggard, their best

bowler in the first Test defeat in

Kandy, is almost certainly out of the

second Test, which starts here

tomorrow, with the back injury that

could end his tour. It leaves England

with the most ticklish of dilemmas

over who should replace him.

On the face of it the choice

between a fast bowler of rare natural

talent, who has taken more

than 200 Test wickets and all too

briefly reigned as the best in the

world, and a novice without a Test

to his name should be a simple one.

But with Harmison, nothing is ever

straightforward.

To watch him and Broad in practice

here yesterday was to see one

bowler bursting with determination

to play for England and the

other apparently lacking in confidence

and rhythm, needing the

help of bowling coach Ottis Gibson

simply to get through his run-up.

Seasoned Harmison watchers will

not be surprised to learn that

Broad was the man who looked as

if he must play.

When Broad produced a gem of a

delivery in the nets yesterday to

pluck England captain Michael

Vaughan's middle stump out of the ground, and celebrated as if he

really had taken a Test wicket, his

case appeared irresistible, especially

when Harmison later sprayed

the ball around.

Yet, listening to England coach

Peter Moores afterwards it is clear

that he is reluctant to discard the

services of Harmison, who might

just hit his straps and produce the

pace and bounce that would unsettle

Sri Lanka, even on their own

pitches. It would be a huge gamble

but it might just work for England.

'Steve is an experienced Test

cricketer who has worked hard

here and is someone Sri Lanka

wouldn't like to face because they

are aware of his reputation,' said

Moores. 'If we feel he's ready to go

then we'll pick him, but if not we'll

assess our other options.

'Ultimately, the real challenge for

Steve will come when he pulls on

an England shirt again and plays

for his country. He'll have a different

set of pressures to face then.'

Broad, 21, who has already made

an impact in one-day cricket and

came close to a Test debut against

India at Lord's last season before

Chris Tremlett leapfrogged him

into the team, has impressed in

practice throughout this tour. But

it was intriguing to hear Moores

reveal that England still have

concerns over his physical readiness

for the ultimate step up.

The gangly and youthful-looking

Broad was almost too slim for Test

cricket last summer, but has clearly

been working on his upper body to the extent that, at 6ft 6in, he is looking

close to the finished fast bowling

article. The question remains,

though, in Moores' mind, over

whether it is right to throw him into

back-to -back Tests in such

uniquely demanding conditions.

'The challenge has always been

when the right time will be to

release Stuart into Test cricket,'

added Moores. 'There's no doubt

he is pushing hard and offers

options with the bat too, so he's

earned the right to be in this squad.

'Mentally, for a young bloke, he's

very strong but it's pushing the limits

of him physically to bowl three

spells a day over five days at this

stage. He's got a Test match in him

now, but certainly three on the

bounce would be a struggle.'

The immediate question is

whether two Tests 'on the bounce'

are too much for a cricketer who

exudes maturity and presence.

It is not inconceivable that both

Harmison and Broad will play,

because Jimmy Anderson was

expensive in Kandy and yesterday

bowled with strapping on the left

ankle he injured earlier on this tour.

Anderson, being Anderson, also

gave Harmison a run for his money

over which England cricketer could

produce the worst body language.

Yet, the Lancastrian finally came

of age last summer and England

will be reluctant to jettison him on

the back of one bad performance,

as long as he is fully fit.

Ryan Sidebottom is the one

bowler who should have no fears

about his place — how far he has

come in the past six months — but

he was missing from nets with a

heavy cold yesterday and England were hoping it will not prove too

debilitating for him.

It seems England have virtually

ruled out the option of playing a

second spinner in Graeme Swann,

more because they wonder whether

he will be effective on the pitches

here, given that even Muttiah

Muralitharan and Monty Panesar

found it a challenge in Kandy.

The Sinhalese Sports Club pitch

here in Colombo is expected to

offer turn but also a bit of bounce

on the opening day or two, which

England are tempted to allow

Harmison the opportunity to

exploit. But can they take the risk?

Moores will surely be thinking of

that fateful first delivery in Brisbane

last year when Harmison set

the tone for the most frustrating of

Test debacles by sending the opening

ball of the most eagerly awaited

Ashes series in history straight to

second slip.

Since then he has suffered hernia

and back problems which ruled

him out of much of last summer,

and cut a largely disconsolate figure

here when forced into 12th man

duties and the lonely existence of

bowling to a single stump in the

middle during Test intervals.

Broad the character is everything

that Harmison is not and it will be

intriguing to discover where

Moores, Vaughan and chairman of

selectors David Graveney, playing a

full part in overseas selection for

the first time, place their faith.

If it is Harmison cross your fingers,

hold your breath and hope this

most maddening of cricketers gets

it right. For his and England's sake,

he truly must.

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