Harmison leads from front
Steve Harmison is ready to spearhead England’s attack in the bid for ICC Champions Trophy glory - and prove he is a one-day match-winner.
Although the Durham fast bowler’s natural preference is for Test cricket, something which has led to him contemplating premature retirement from limited-overs internationals, he is relishing the challenge.
Since making his debut in December 2002, the 27-year-old has played only 44 times in England’s coloured kit, one fewer appearance than he has made at Test level.
The last of those outings was the team’s humbling at Headingley Carnegie this summer, when Sri Lanka ploughed to their 322-run target with an incredible 75 balls to spare.
In the process, Harmison returned the ignominious figures of 10-0-97-0, the most expensive in England’s one-day history.
Nevertheless, Harmison said: “I quite like the challenge of the one-day game. It just didn’t go for me in the last couple of games of the summer.
“But that happens in one-day cricket, the way the game is played: fast and furious and not much in it for the bowlers.
“I thought I bowled well enough in the first two or three one-dayers. Then the wheels came off at Headingley and I wasn’t the only one they went for - they went for everybody. That was just one of those games.
“It came down to whether we kept bowling an experienced bowler or someone younger, so I almost made the decision for Andrew Strauss by telling him I had to bowl. That is why I bowled my 10.
“I feel as though my one-day record - even though in that Sri Lankan series I received some criticism - is quite good.
“I was still the leading wicket-taker in that series so people can say what they like.”
Harmison missed the drawn NatWest Series with Pakistan - which concluded England’s summer commitments - through soft tissue damage sustained by a rib jamming against his hip.
He is yet to bowl in a match since, having been pulled out of Durham’s final Liverpool Victoria County Championship contest of the season as a precaution, but has been bowling flat out in the nets without discomfort.
Increasingly heavy scheduling has taken its toll on the entire 2005 Ashes bowling attack at some point in the past 14 months and Harmison’s latest injury followed a shin problem sustained in India earlier this year, which kept him out of the limited-overs series.
“Injuries are part of sport and I didn’t just miss seven one-dayers in India. I also missed three Tests at the start of the summer,” Harmison said.
“As a fast bowler the prospect of three Tests against Sri Lanka in English conditions in May and June would make you clap your hands.
“I have missed more one-dayers than Test matches through injuries but in the next couple of years I might miss more Test matches than one-dayers.”
Although Harmison has previously floated the idea that the World Cup, which begins next March, could be his one-day hurrah, nothing, he says, is set in stone.
“First and foremost Test matches are my priority but you never know,” Harmison said.
“Only when I stop enjoying things will I stop playing and at the minute things are going alright and I don’t see any point in not playing.
“It has been something I have thought about and I will make the decision that is right for me.”
In the meantime, England will hope Harmison rediscovers his undoubted wicket-taking ability with the new ball as they take on India, Australia and Sri Lanka or West Indies barring a miracle, in their bid to reach the semi-finals.
“I enjoy playing cricket and hopefully we have got five one-dayers here,” he said. “The first three are going to give the chance to put a few things right.”
Meanwhile, Harmison insists he has never felt in danger during his international ventures, following a weekend newspaper report which suggested terrorists were planning to target the Edgbaston Test during last summer’s Ashes.
“We have obviously got a security team who look after us and I have never felt threatened one bit,” said Harmison.
Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland added: “At no stage then or since was there any specific issue relating to the Australian or England teams raised with us.”