Steve Harmison is the ultimate enigma - a player who can frustrate and exhilarate in equal measure. When he is on song his bowling is often unplayable, with even the greatest of Test batsmen falling by the wayside. Yet he can be, as he amply demonstrated at Brisbane, a wayward, even woeful, bowler, whose form and technique seem to simply disappear.
As has been said on many occasions cricket is a sport where psychology is as important as technique. How a player approaches a match mentally can determine success. The game is littered with examples of players who had wonderful ability, but could not translate it into good performances on the field and players who had average technique, but used all their mental strength to make what little they had go as far as possible.
Harmison, ever the paradox, has plenty of ability and mental strength, but they can desert him at a moment's notice. This is never more true than when he is on tour, deprived of his home comforts. It is then that he can appear at his most abject, as was the case this week, a solitary figure lost in a place no longer familiar to him.
Consistency is another yardstick for measuring a player's quality. Praise is heaped on those cricketers who can perform well for long periods, who can sustain their form and be relied upon by their Captain and team. Other, more mercurial, players are usually praised one week and vilified the next. Harmison is a prime example of such a player.
Just four Tests ago he was being universally acclaimed for his destruction of Pakistan at Old Trafford, a match in which he took 11 wickets for just 76 runs. His bowling was extraordinary as he blasted Pakistan's strong batting line-up away, firing unplayable deliveries down the pitch at will. There was no shortage of confidence or venom in Harmison in that match, a far cry from Brisbane.
Yet the clue is in just how recently Harmison was able to perform so well. There is no way that huge technical flaws have suddenly afflicted him. It is just that well catalogued inconsistency, which has plagued him throughout his career. Just as he is written off he comes up with a bowling performance like Old Trafford or Lord's the year before. He could just as easily do so again at Adelaide.
It is for this reason that Harmison should not so readily be discarded, as many commentators have suggested. He is a proven match-winner, a player who has the ability to bowl better than most. Yes, he can bowl appallingly badly and embarass himself and his team, but that is the enigma, and England cannot afford to take to the field at Adelaide without him.
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