England Cricket Players
NBC Denis Compton Award 1998
Wisden Cricketer of the Year 2005
With his lofty, loose-limbed gait and his painful capacity for jamming fingers against bat-handles, Steve Harmison had for some time been drawing tongue-in-cheek comparisons to the great Curtly Ambrose, when suddenly, in Jamaica in March 2004, he loped in to produce a spell of irresistible fast bowling that Ambrose himself could hardly have bettered. West Indies were blown away for 47, and Harmison's figures of 7 for 12 were the best in Tests at Sabina Park. It was a stunning riposte from a man who, only months earlier, had flown home injured from England's tour of Bangladesh with whispers about his attitude chasing him all the way. Harmison, who was born in Ashington - the Northumberland village where the footballing Charlton brothers first saw the light of day - was barely 20 when he went with England A to South Africa in 1998-99, but after that he was held back by a series of niggling injuries - including somehow dislocating his shoulder when he caught his hand in his trouser pocket while bowling - and a tendency to fall homesick when confined to barracks on overseas tours. He eventually broke into the Test team in mid-2002, after an injury to another tearaway, Simon Jones, but for a long time he was no better than promising, with a tendency to mix magical spells with moments when the radar would go badly awry. But, in the Caribbean, the spiritual home of the fast bowler, he seemed to have finally come of age. This was borne out in the 2004 Test series against West Indies and New Zealand, where he plundered wickets aplenty as England completed a 7-0 clean sweep of victories. But in South Africa the following winter, the doubts crept back in and he after ending a miserable Test series with a niggling calf strain, he admitted to the press that he had been hoping to fail his fitness test in order to be allowed home early. Against Bangladesh the following summer, he took a cathartic five-wicket haul in front of his home crowd in Durham, before tearing into Australia's top-order with five wickets on the first morning of the Ashes series at Lord's. He couldn't secure victory on that occasion, but popped up with the most vital strike of his life one Test later, to seal a thrilling two-run win at Edgbaston and set England on their way to an historic Ashes triumph.