Thursday, 22 June 2006

'Freak' or Unique?

An old favourite answers the call at Gloucestershire CCC, reports Colin Crew

For a county which has fielded such world-class stars as Mike Procter and Courtney Walsh, the impact made by overseas signings at Gloucestershire in more recent years has been disappointing to say the least. The likes of Shabbir Ahmed, Shoaib Malik and Upul Chandana have failed to live up to billing and the appearances of Nathan Bracken, James Franklin and Ramnaresh Sarwan have been so brief as to barely warrant mention. Even the rampaging Mike Hussey failed to reproduce his Northants form during his brief stint and the one notable exception, Jonty Rhodes, could not be persuaded to stay on and add to the five tons and 1,293 runs he collected during 2003.

But for five years spanning the turn of the century, Gloucestershire benefited enormously from the street smart cricket of Australian Ian Harvey and now, admittedly through accident rather than intention, they seem set to do so again during the whole of the 2006 season. Affectionately dubbed ‘The Freak’, few players without Test Match experience can ever have had such a galvanising effect on a county side, with ‘Harv’ arguably proving the most vital cog in a well-oiled one day cricketing machine which claimed no less than seven trophies in five years, ending a twenty two year wait for silverware in dramatic style.

The dual signing of Kiwi pair Hamish Marshall and Shane Bond, both available for the majority of the 2006 English domestic season, looked good enough on paper. But even the least cynical of the Nevil Road faithful would not have been rushing to the bookies to put their money on Bond being the County’s top wicket taker come September and sure enough, yet another injury prevented the New Zealand quickie taking up his post in May.

The smarter signing from the start might well have been the ever improving and previously employed Franklin, an opening bowler now boasting both a Test century and a first class double ton. But with the left armer Glamorgan-bound, into the breach has stepped the flamboyant Harvey. Originally intended to be a short term signing until the arrival of the two ‘Black Caps’, 350 runs, two hundreds and 12 cheap wickets in five games suggests that even at 34, the Victorian all-rounder should be a more than adequate replacement.

To describe Harvey as unconventional would probably not do justice to either the man or the adjective. A formidable force with both bat and ball in all forms of the game, he has also elevated the one day game into almost a science. If the occasion dictates, Harvey, the only man so far to make three hundreds in Twenty20 cricket in England, strikes the ball as cleanly and as far as almost anyone. But he also abhors the ‘dot ball’ and employing well timed sweeps and lofted drives, he manufactures at least one run off almost every delivery he faces.

The modern style of attacking one day cricket practically dictates that successful seam bowlers must be able to produce a well disguised slower ball, but Harvey has a veritable collection; off breaks, yorkers and even ‘back of the hand’ stuff. There have been few better bowlers in the ‘death’ overs in recent times, with Harvey consistently managing both wickets and economy on the biggest of stages.

Harvey’s perceived ‘defection’ to Yorkshire prior to the 2004 season was surely felt more keenly at Gloucestershire than any departure since the languid Jamaican Courtney Walsh boarded a plane to Kingston for the final time in 1998. But a few more swashbuckling centuries and productive first change spells will no doubt bring about forgiveness and as ‘Hurricane Harvey’ careered towards yet another one day century against Surrey on Sunday off just 80 deliveries, doubtless the watching Gloucestershire fans were left wishing he had never been away.

It is hard to imagine that a side containing Harvey would have surrendered its First Division status in both competitions so meekly as Gloucestershire did in 2005 and although it would be a great deal to expect for him to inspire the Glosters to such heights as they achieved during his first stay, Ian Harvey’s place in West Country cricketing folklore is already assured. Freakish only in that such all round talents belong to one man, a match winner with both bat and ball such as Harvey will be tough to replace.

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