Wednesday, 23 May 2007

The real Harmison

Once again Steve Harmison finds himself under attack for not performing at Lord's last week. No other current England player seems capable of generating heated argument as easily as the Durham enigma.

I have always been a great admirer of Harmison and supported his selection through all his ups and downs. I still do and the reason for that is that he is still a class Test bowler, who's figures reflect a player England cannot afford to drop.

His recent nightmare in Australia and sluggish bowling at Lord's should not disguise the fact that Harmison was ripping though a strong Pakistan team only last August and that his overall record, apart from three glaring anomalies, stands up to the most ardent scrutiny.

Those anomalies are his two tours of Australia and one tour of South Africa. On all three occasions he was unable to perform at the high level we have all come to expect and looked the sad forlorn figure that left the recent Ashes series with his tail between his legs.

The terrible stats of those three tours make grim reading for Harmison supporters - Australia 2002/3: 9 wickets @ 50.55, SA 2004/5: 9 @ 73.22, Australia 2006/7: 10 @ 61.40. Clearly these performances are not good enough, but they are not just down to Harmison not travelling well, as his stats for other tours reveal.

Against Australia most of the England bowlers suffered on both those tours, as one expects in such one-sided series. The South Africa tour is an odd one as the pitches ought to have suited Harmison. Maybe he just got on a poor run and his alleged homesickness got the better of him.

On other tours Harmison has been far more successful. On the flat dead tracks of Pakistan in 2005/6, against a very strong batting line-up, Harmison showed great determination to take 12 wickets @ 32.41. Even in India in 2005/6, when he was not fully fit, he managed 5 @ 38.60.

Of course, his finest hour, excluding his 9 @ 8.77 in Bangladesh in 2003/4, was against West Indies in 2003/4. In this series, which people forget was the first England had won in WI for over 30 years, Harmison took 23 @ 14.86.

Harmison's home form has always been good. He has consistently taken wickets in every series he has played in England, only suffering once against SA in 2003, when he managed only 9 wickets @ 45.88. However, this was a very high scoring series in hot weather when most bowlers suffered.

Only last summer Harmison showed his quality taking 20 @ 27.10 against Pakistan, despite the number of runs scored by their batsmen in that series.

In conclusion Harmison's overall record of 190 wickets @ 31.10 in just 51 Tests stands comparison with most good fast bowlers, in terms of wickets per match. His average is too high, reflecting those three awful tours, but is still acceptable in a batsman dominated era.

To suggest that he should be dropped after just one Test this summer is to ignore the history of the man and to weaken England's bowling attack considerably.


The Atheist said...

“To suggest that he should be dropped after just one Test this summer is to ignore the history of the man and to weaken England's bowling attack considerably.”

As far as I see the situation, people are calling for Harminson’s head precisely because of historical reasons. Undoubtedly, he is very talented and has a lot of potential, but there is only so far being an apologist for his failings can get you.

You outline many tours where he has averaged over thirty, some were even worse.From this historical perspective, according to your own analysis, Harminson has only had one good series overseas, and a few decent seasons here. These “purple patches” were two year’s ago.

Sadly, there is very little evidence of them coming back. Consequently, people are arguing that he should be dropped. Not, as you suggest, because of this one bad match, but because there is no discernable sign of improvement since the Ashes catastrophe. More importantly, he seems to lack that drive to succeed at the highest level.

In some ways, he and his Durham colleague, Paul Collingwood, are opposites: one gifted with brilliant natural ability, but lacking in character; the other less fluent, but endowed with a steely determination.

At test level, it is all about mental strength and, sadly, Harminson simply does not have it.

Nick Gammons said...

I understand people's frustrastion with Harmison, but you seem not to have counted his top class performance last summer against Pakistan.

The Ashes was appalling, but it was not just Harmison who played poorly - most of the team, coaching staff and selectors must take the fall.

It is only one series and one match ago that Harmison was in prime form, not two years.

Richard Lake said...

Sorry Nick, but "prime form" and "top class performance" can only refer to the Old Trafford test. In his last 20 matches, that is the only match in which he has taken 5-fer.

In those 20 tests, he's taken 61 wickets (that's just 3 per match), and 11 of those were in the Old Trafford test. At this strike rate we'd need 6-7 bowlers to bowl a team out twice, not the 4-5 that we should be striving for.

This is more than a reaction to the recent Ashes series. He's very lucky that we have so many fast bowlers out injured, because he really isn't contributing at the moment.

Chrispy said...

Yet to be convinced he is a world beater. The stats suggest the peak of 2004 bucked the greater trend!