rediff.com

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  

Rediff News  All News 
Rediff.com  » Sports » Harmison, Flintoff England's driving force

Harmison, Flintoff England's driving force

July 20, 2005 18:09 IST

Two unaffected young men from the north of England who bowl with burning pace and enjoy a close friendship away from the field form the heart of England's Ashes challenge to Australia.

For the first time in 30 years the fight for the Ashes starting at Lord's on Thursday is being staged between the two best teams in the world, giving extra allure to the game's oldest rivalry.

The key to England's revival since the dark days of 1999, when they slumped to bottom of the Test rankings, has been the emergence of Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff as world class performers.

Harmison, a loose-limbed fast bowler from county Durham, was the world's number one bowler for a time last year after blitzing West Indies in the Caribbean.

Flintoff is the best all-rounder in the world, averaging 44 with the bat and 26 with the ball since Michael Vaughan took over as captain two years ago.

Together they form half of the most potent pace attack England have fielded for 50 years when Frank Tyson and Brian Statham swept the Australians aside.

UNFULFILLED TALENTS

Yet for several seasons both looked doomed to be among the large group of unfulfilled talents who can be seen plying their trade on a daily basis in English county cricket.

On England's last tour to Australia, Harmison bowled a succession of wides during an over in an early match in Perth which might never have concluded had the umpire not taken pity.

Flintoff, an aimable lad from Lancashire with obvious ability but little discernible ambition, weighed at one stage more than the then world heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis.

Under the backroom guidance of coach Duncan Fletcher and the passionate captaincy of Nasser Hussain, who was succeeded by the more laidback but equally effective Vaughan, the pair have flourished.

Although both play down their individual contributions and stress the importance of the team ethic it is blindingly apparent that if England are to wrest back the Ashes, Harmison and Flintoff will have to play major roles.

At the England team's open media day this week, Harmison acknowledged how much he had learned playing against the country who have taken the game to a new level, despite the Perth debacle.

"It was a funny day for everybody but me," he reflected. "The two batsmen didn't know what was going on. I didn't have a clue so they had no chance.

In another losing Test series Harmison's nine wickets were unacceptably expensive and his test future doubtful.

"It is something I have looked back at and learned from," he said. "That could have been me finished, never seen again. I think that was a test of my character and I came back stronger for it."

Harmison's special asset, shared with former West Indies' fast men Joel Garner and Curtly Ambrose, is the exceptional bounce he extracts from the pitch at high pace. He is not especially athletic but when his long arms and legs are working in unison he is the nastiest bowler in world cricket.

"I feel I have a nasty streak in me but it's when I'm in my cricket clothes and I have got a ball in my hand," he said. "Apart from that I feel as if I'm quite gentle.

PEAKING NICELY

Flintoff, another gentle giant off the pitch, said Harmison was peaking nicely for the five-Test series.

"He's so much looking forward to playing against Australia. It shows in the nets. People are not queuing up to play against him in the nets.

"He's matured as a bowler, he's matured as a person. Obviously we are going to see the best of him over the next six weeks."

If there is anything in cricket more exciting than a pure fast bowler it must be a fast-bowling all rounder who hits the ball huge distances.

Flintoff is now the most mesmeric all rounder since Ian Botham and the best since Imran Khan and his appearance at the crease is guaranteed to send spectators rushing back to their seats at English grounds.

But although Flintoff could would command a place in the England purely as a batsmen, his development into a strike bowler means his bowling is now probably more valuable to his team.

"I bowl as many overs as I need to," he said. "It can be hard getting your pads on and batting but that's what I do as an all rounder. I'm flexible in this series. I want to give it as much as I can, whether it's batting or bowling or fielding in slips."

Neither man underestimates what an Ashes win for the first time since 1987 would mean.

"This is a massive chance for us," said Flintoff. "You saw that with the rugby lads who won the World Cup."

John Mehaffey
Source:
© Copyright 2013 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.