Harmison lauds historic pennant

Lv County Championship
Steve Harmison

Steve Harmison is mobbed by his team-mates after snaring Martin Saggers

Steve Harmison hailed Durham’s “unbelievable achievement” after cricket’s newest county claimed their maiden LV County Championship just 16 years into their first-class history.

Harmison took the last two wickets with successive deliveries - after Callum Thorp had bagged the first seven - to bowl out Kent for 204 and complete victory by an innings and 71 runs at Canterbury.

The immediate impact was that Kent, the only permanent inhabitants of the top flight since two-division cricket was introduced seven years ago, were relegated for the first time.

Durham had to wait another four hours for Nottinghamshire to fail in their pursuit of a huge Hampshire total at Trent Bridge before they could celebrate.

“It is an unbelievable achievement,” said Harmison, in action despite a cast on the left wrist he cracked in the field yesterday.

“It is only 16 years as a first-class county...wow. There are some young lads up there who don’t realise what sort of achievement they’ve just had.”

Ashington-born Harmison is one of a clutch of homegrown stars in former South Africa one-day international Dale Benkenstein’s team, but acknowledged he has not always reached his potential for his native county.

“I’ve probably been through more bad times than good times,” he admitted, after taking 60 wickets in Division One this summer.

“This is my 12th season and I’ve probably had more bad years than good years, but this is just a great feeling.”

Harmison rated today’s success as a highlight of his career to challenge, if not equal, England’s shock 2005 Ashes victory.

“The Ashes takes some beating. Because of the nature of the series win, it will always be the pinnacle,” he conceded.

“But behind that, I don’t think there is a prouder moment than this in my career. It’s very special.”

Among those with most reason for satisfaction is Geoff Cook, director of cricket and a central plank of Durham’s coaching team ever since he moved back north after his playing career with Northamptonshire and England.

“Obviously Geoff has to have a special mention because he’s been there from day one,” added Harmison, who also singled out Jon Lewis and Alan Walker. “Look on the balcony at the coaching staff.

Calum Thorp & Rob Key

Kent captain Robert Key, here seen cleaned up by Callum Thorp, has some tough decisions to make

“Jon Lewis had four years as captain and didn’t have a great deal of success.

“But what he did do was bring young Durham players through and they’ve just won the championship. Big thanks go to them.”

Australian seamer Thorp’s career-best 7-88 was the most telling performance at the end of a season in which Durham’s team ethic has won through under Benkenstein.

It was the captain who helped Thorp take the sixth wicket with a diving catch at gully to see off Justin Kemp for 54 and end a rearguard stand of 107 with Ryan McLaren (65no).

There was no way back then for Kent, leaving Benkenstein to echo many of Harmison’s sentiments.

“It’s been a tough season, but this shows what a good side we are,” he said.

Benkenstein, due to hand over the captaincy after three seasons, also paid tribute to Cook.

“I decide things on the field but Geoff Cook is the real heart and soul of the club, and a lot of the success is due to the efforts he’s put in over the last 20 years.

“We are the end product of a lot of hard work and it is unbelievably enjoyable with the group of players we’ve had.”

While Durham had so much to celebrate on their coach trip north, Kent stayed put to mull over the final frustration of a cruel season.

After Kent had added an unexpected first relegation to near misses in three other competitions this season, it was left to coach Graham Ford to reflect on where it all went wrong.

“There’s no question that we ran out of gas,” he said. “The disappointments of not quite getting across the line to win the three one-day competitions took its toll too because winning trophies can be quite energising.

“Had we managed to win one competition, it might have provided the energy boost we needed to go on for the rest of the season.”

Durham are expected to receive their championship trophy during the club’s annual dinner at Riverside on Monday night.

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