Five-star Harmison insists: I'm getting better every ball I send down

By PAUL NEWMAN

Last updated at 08:57 01 March 2008


There were times when they did not appear to have enough fit players to take the field but, by the end of a day of gradual improvement, England had solved the selection puzzles that threatened to dog them in the build-up to the first Test.

The second day of their final warm-up game before the real business begins in Hamilton on Tuesday (9.30pm UK time) started chaotically for England, with injury concerns over Paul Collingwood, ChrisTremlett and Matthew Hoggard leading to three fielding substitutes and a search for someone, anyone, to take the second new ball against an Invitational XI with Steve Harmison. Even Alastair Cook was going through his bowling action in the field in an attempt to catch his captain's eye.

Slowly and then more emphatically, however, the two senior players who were playing for their Test places here at the University Oval did much to settle the debate over their inclusion, Harmison carrying the bowling load to take four wickets in a ten-over spell to finish with a fortuitous five-wicket haul without need for the new ball. And then Strauss produced the long innings he so badly needed, meaning the pair can now look forward to Hamilton with a huge sigh of relief.

Not that anyone should sit back and expect a rampant Harmison to knock New Zealand over in this three-Test series just yet.

His bowling yesterday was, in truth, not a lot better than on the first day and his probable inclusion in Hamilton will owe something to the absence of Tremlett , who suffered a recurrence of his left side injury yesterday and will leave for home before the Test starts. Tremlett, so naturally gifted but so vulnerable, is almost as frustrating as Harmison.

Now, on a Hamilton wicket that is expected to have pace and bounce, Harmison will surely play ahead of Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson, leaving England to cross their fingers, close their eyes and hope the man that no-one seems able to work out will get it right on the night.

To listen to Harmison after the Invitational XI had been dismissed for 271 and England had knocked off the 140 run deficit and moved into a slender lead for the loss of three wickets by the close was to hear a man unsure of his own form and state of mind. His perennial search for his elusive best seems to be taking its toll on his fragile temperament.

Strauss

Good timing: Andrew Strauss sweeps on his was to a half century

'I get as frustrated as anybody when I can't get it right,' said Harmison. 'But it's just the way I am and the way I'm made up. It's not for the want of trying. I try my nuts off every time I go on the field for England and all I've ever done is my best.

'I'm getting marginally better the more I bowl but I can't honestly say how far away I am from where I need to be next week. I wouldn't swap the world for the reason I arrived late out here (he attended the overdue birth of his fourth child, Charlie) but I am the sort of bowler who takes time to to get used to being in a different country. I've acclimatised quicker than I thought I would and I feel as though I'm on the right road, but I'm not there yet.'

How quickly Harmison arrives at the destination England need him to reach before Tuesday is the big question. There have been whispers that the former best bowler in the world did not put in all the work he should have done to be at his optimum best upon his arrival in New Zealand five days after the other specialist Test bowlers.

Harmison did not exactly deny that when he said 'I've done a lot of gym work and I'm in as good a shape as I've been for a long time but I didn't do as much bowling as I would have liked. There's only so much you can do indoors.'

There is nothing he can do about that now. But, as long as Ryan Sidebottom is fit and Hoggard has recovered from the sickness that overcame him yesterday, England will gamble on Harmison as the man who, if he gets it right, can unsettle any batsman in the world with his pace and bounce.

Strauss's position is more clear cut after he survived a brute of an opening ball from Mark Gillespie to progress serenely to an unbeaten 55 by the close. England always wanted their former stand-in captain to play in Hamilton and this was just the confirmation that they needed that he should return after being dropped from the tour of Sri Lanka.

Collingwood, too, seems on course for the first Test despite a minor worry about his hamstring which stopped him fielding yesterday.

Kevin Pietersen, meanwhile, has confirmed that he has been made a lucrative offer to join the Indian Premier League revolution but remains committed to England.

'There's no way in the world I'd turn my back on England,' said Pietersen. 'I know there is interest from India and, yes, there have been offers but it's not something I'm particularly interested in. There's nothing that will lure me away from England just yet.'

His words were sincere but the 'just yet' was significant. Pietersen, like other leading England players, would absolutely be interested in the officially sanctioned IPL if and when the International Cricket Council open a window to accomodate it in the already overcrowded international calendar.

When that happens - and it is surely only a matter of time - the likes of Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, among others, will be able to earn huge sums playing in the IPL while still fulfilling their England contracts. And that day will happen sooner rather than later.

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now