Harmison decision benefits Durham
There will be an extra reason for satisfaction for Steve Harmison tonight when he joins the celebrations as Durham receive the trophy for their maiden County Championship title.
Harmison’s performances not only underpinned much of their campaign – helping cricket’s newest county beat the rest, only 16 years into their first-class history.
They also allowed the 29-year-old fast bowler to press his claims for an England recall.
After a promising return in England’s consolation Brit Oval Test win against South Africa, Harmison came out of one-day international retirement to then play a prominent role in their NatWest Series demolition of the same opponents.
There could then easily have been a temptation for the fast bowler to take a rest before winter assignments, beginning with November’s multi-million dollar Stanford Twenty20 match in Antigua.
Harmison, though, had already stuck to his guns to broker a deal with England that would ensure he remained available to his county – unlike several other Test and ODI players – for the all-important conclusion of the LV County Championship Division One season.
“If they’d said I couldn’t come back and play for Durham I probably wouldn’t have come back and played one-dayers till after Stanford,” he said.
“I couldn’t leave unfinished business.”
Harmison felt a debt of gratitude to his county for their help after he was dropped by England in New Zealand last winter.
But he also wanted to be part of the action if they had a shot at the title – at the culmination of a season which he finished after Saturday’s win at Kent with 60 championship wickets.
He is well aware next summer’s Ashes mean that, if all goes well, he may be largely unavailable for his county.
“I may not be playing much for Durham next year, which is why I wanted to come back,” Harmison explained.
“I recognised how much they’ve helped me since I came back from New Zealand, so I couldn’t turn me back on them. I was always coming back – never any question.
“That was something that was agreed in the 24 hours I had to make my mind up whether I wanted to play in the one-dayers.
“I said I would come back with a couple of conditions, one of them being that I had to come back and play for Durham.”
While Harmison can look forward to a very different 2009, it seems likely it will be all change for Durham too – with Dale Benkenstein hoping to stand down as captain, after three very successful years in charge.
The former South Africa one-day international, who sees batsman Will Smith as his ideal successor, is determined Durham must continue to develop rather than stagnate. He too knows they will not be able to bank on Harmison next season.
“We won’t see much of him, so we’ll have to put our heads together and come to a solution,” said Benkenstein.
“But he’s world class and confident and at the best of his bowling ability at the moment.
“He’s been available most of the summer and that’s made the difference.
“It’s the X-factor, the (Shane) Warne factor; he’s world-class – and lucky for us, England didn’t realise that.”