Thursday 23 November 2006 

Harmison's Wayward Start Leaves Sides Bemused

Australia and England were both at a loss to explain Steve Harmison's erratic performance in the first Ashes test on Thursday.

England's main strike bowler made a horrible start to the series when his first ball missed the target by metres and went straight to Andrew Flintoff at second slip.

He then conceded two fours in the same over and was pulled from the attack after just 12 deliveries when opener Justin Langer helped himself to another two boundaries to give the home side a flying start.

Harmison bowled a total of 12 overs before tea at a cost of 52 runs and was not used at all in the final session after Flintoff tossed the second new ball to James Anderson.

There were concerns that the big Durham speedster might have been injured after he pulled out of last week's practice match with a side strain but spinner Ashley Giles told a news conference Harmison was fit.

"As far as I know he's not injured," Giles said.

"I don't know why he didn't bowl. As far as I know it's captaincy and tactics and strategy...I don't know of any injuries."

Australian skipper Ricky Ponting, who finished the day unbeaten on 137 with his team in control at 346 for three, said he was also surprised that Harmison only bowled so few overs in the day.

"I can only think that he bowled 12 overs today because he just didn't have his rhythm," Ponting said.

"I don't know anything about his injurues or whatever. He did come off the ground a few times today but I don't know if that's got anything to do with his injuries from last week."

NERVOUS START

Ponting said Harmison's nervous start to the day had given the Australians an early boost but they could not afford to take him lightly.

"Obviously he was a bit nervous this morning with that first delivery and our guys played him pretty well today," Ponting said.

"He set the scene for them in (the last Ashes series). He had us all hopping around early on and he's still capable of doing that.

"He might do it tomorrow morning he's that sort of bowler. On his day he might be as good as anybody... we can't afford to take him lightly."

Harmison has a reputation as an erratic bowler after he bowled seven wides in a row in his first tour match in Australia four years ago and has also been known to be effected by homesickness, but Ponting said it was dangerous for the Australians to read too much into his first day performance.

"I don't know much about him as a character or a person," Ponting said.

"I know a bit about that homesickness stuff but he's out there representing England playing in a test match cricket.

"I think if was there was any insecurity he probably wouldn't be the bowler he's been for such a long time and he'll bounce back for sure.

"We know he's a dangerous bowler and he can just get you out with a good delivery so you better play respect to him whenever he comes on."

© Reuters 2006.
By Julian Linden