In 1998, Durham County Cricket Club was at its lowest ebb (hence my joy in watching them perform so brilliantly this year), and were joined by an ageing David Boon – he of battling-number-3-for-Australia-fame. And he laid eyes on a young, gangly, timid Steve Harmison which this fascinating article goes on to say:
“The guys got him in for a bowl and I went along to watch. He was on his own – it wasn’t a pre-season net. They didn’t even let him bowl at anyone. They were just trying to get him back, under relaxed circumstances, without anyone around. I stood a little away at the start, then quickly moved to have a closer look.
“Basically I watched about three balls and went: ‘Oh Jesus!’ I just went to him and said: ‘That’s enough for me. Can you get yourself fit to play?’ And that was it. He was tall, he had pace, he was a bit gangly. He reminded me of some of the West Indians – big guys who run in with long levers and long arms. He was a bit wayward but that didn’t bother me. For us to have someone like him at Durham, hopefully to put the wind up a few people, would be a fantastic asset. It went from there.”
And I thought it was worth posting here. I’ve harked on and on about how good I think Harmison is. I’m not a coach, or a selector, but like most fervent cricket fans I can detect quality when I see it. The famous (not that famous, but it’s memorable nevertheless) quote by Justin Langer, who was playing for Middlesex and who taught Andrew Strauss so much, is remembered by Boon too:
‘I think the stand-out game was him bowling at [Middlesex and Australia's Justin] Langer. He had him jumping all over the shop and hitting him a couple of times. Langer came straight over and said: “Where have you got him from? He’s just awesome.” He said it was the quickest bowling he had faced that year.’
At that time, Langer was just about secure of his place in Australia’s team – and it wasn’t long before Steve Waugh then called him the best batsmen in the world (much as he called Brett Lee a once in a generation bowler…). So England obviously took note of Langer’s praise, saying of Harmison: ” [whose] baby face had quickly turned into that of a fierce-eyed monster. His first ball wasn’t a fluke, as the next six overs produced some of the fastest bowling I have faced for a long time. This boy was quick, and I mean really quick. Like a West Indian fast bowler, he bounces in, hits the crease hard and hits the pitch harder.”
So this explains my, and the rest of England’s fans, pain in watching him in South Africa. After his devastating performances in the West Indies (he took 7-12 and bowled them out for 47), where Brian Lara in particular really struggled to get bat on ball against him, his South African tour was a complete mystery. Really dreadful bowling and we assumed he’d lost the plot. Indeed, I have a Â£20 bet with my mate that he won’t come good in The Ashes – something I’m regretting already, as he’s definately got his confidence back.
As a Pom, I want him to knock over as many batters as possible this summer. Heck, even Boon wouldn’t mind…just not too many though