The Day That Harmison Turned The Tables

There isn’t a lot going on today so Matthew Sheldon is back to reminisce about one of the finest bowling spells by an England paceman in history. The month was March. The year was 2004. The ground, once again, was Sabina Park. And the bowler in question was the brilliant Steve Harmison …

West Indian cricket is famous for many things. They have been blessed with legendary batting lineups featuring all time greats like Richards, Lara and Greenidge. They have wonderfully passionate supporters – the ever more outrageous Gravy cavorting wildly in the old stands comes to mind.

Then there are the incredible fast bowlers. Take your pick from a host of famous names. For now let’s go with Holding, Roberts, and Marshall. Bowlers who destroyed England with shocking regularity.

There were almost endless series of English misery. Broken bones accompanied broken spirits. Blackwashed, beaten and bloodied.

For many years England were without a fast bowler who could intimidate and rattle an opposition. The ability to mop up an innings or to inflict pain (physically or on the scoreboard) at the top of an innings are rare skills. The West Indians seemed to breed these players for fun. Now where was an English equivalent?

The quest eventually found Steve Harmison, whose test career was truly peaking when England were on their tour of the West Indies in 2004. The need for speed was great. Harmison had this in abundance. When he was flying he was almost unplayable.

Harmison had a tremendously powerful action, with such smooth timing. A high left arm and powerful chest on delivery. He had the immense height, the ferocity and the rhythm. They were all pieced together during these wonderful test matches.

This tour was a major highlight of Big Steve’s career – and it was a fantastic sight to behold after decades of being on the receiving end. Now we had a deadly paceman of our own to unleash a barrage of lethal attacks.

The success of the second innings at Sabina Park for Harmison was how wonderfully he controlled his length. He did get wickets with the short stuff, and he certainly intimidated with it, but he was also wise to pitch things up – thus regularly snaring wickets in the slips.

With so many moving parts to balance – and at such speed – Harmison had to manage his tremendous frame so well in order to truly fulfil his great potential. Here he was roaring in at his intimidating best, sending lethal leather down to a withering Windies.

The beauty of his action was how perfectly in sync his movements were. When his timing was just right it appeared effortless. There was a smoothness to Harmison when he was at his best that reminded me of Joel Garner – a man who the West Indies would have loved to have had in their ranks at this time.

Yes, the West Indies were less of a threat than in the past – but Harmison still had excellent batsmen like Chanderpaul, Lara and Sarwan hopping around at the crease throughout the series.

It was a delight to witness the shoe being firmly placed on the other foot at Sabina Park, with an umbrella slip cordon that would have been unthinkable on previous tours when English medium pacers toiled under the baking sun and got flayed to all parts of the Caribbean. Now the tourists revved up the pressure and were relentless. It was a complete role reversal.

How magnificent it was to see the West Indians backing away to square leg to shield themselves from the onslaught. What a sight as players were bounced out.

This was revenge for all those years of pain. Finally England had a bowling attack that could be feared, and a giant figure demolishing the West Indies almost at will.

If all the catches had stuck Harmison could have ended with even better figures than a career best tally of 7-12. But the marker for the series had been laid down and the test match had been as good as won. This was no English attack to pummel around the park for plenty.

Harrison’s sensational bowling ensured the West Indies were skittled for just 47. He then claimed 6-61 in the next test in Trinidad to continue his  path of destruction.

This series was going to be a dogfight for the West Indians. By now however, they had no teeth to retaliate.

Matthew Sheldon


Check out his blog


  • Interesting post, but its inclusion today is based on a false premise “not much happening today” – nah, just two highly compelling matches in the Women’s T20 world cup.

    • Sadly TFT doesn’t currently follow women’s cricket. I just don’t have the time and, to be honest, know sod all about it. I haven’t been able to watch a single ball of the women’s world T20. All I know is that England are currently struggling – which surprised me because I thought we were supposed to be decent.

      If anyone wants to become TFT’s women’s cricket specialist then please let me know :-) It’s something I’m just not qualified to write about. Sorry.

      • Not sure why Women’s Cricket has got itself into this thread. I’ve no problem with the ladies playing but Harmison’s 7 for is a much much exciting piece to reminis on. Not sure why the Women’s T20 deserves a daily headline on the BBC either.

        • What’s stopping you. There’s plenty of interest out there in cricket world wide. When England aren’t playing interest doesn’t dry up.

            • That’s no excuse. We’re looking to you for leadership. You have to make sacrifices for the bigger picture now you’re our leader. Man up, get yourself a case of Red Bull and burn the midnight oil so your readers can be entertained.

              • …or you could look at cric info to fill in the gaps and let James have a rest occasionally, although I admit it lacks James’s style, panache and insight.

              • I’d rather James has a rest than report on England v Thailand. Blimey you’d have to pay me me to watch it.

      • Yet another Test long over before its scheduled finale and with the away team being absolutely useless. Ho hum….

        Main point of interest is that NZ look like they might have found one in Kyle Jamieson. Funny how Boult and Southee immediately upped their performances in the second innings! BTW some might be sceptical of my argument that Anderson has benefitted from changes in conditions and weak opposition batting – but notice how Southee (probably the most similar bowler in world cricket) has also been bringing his average down steadily and he has to play most games with the supposedly useless Kookabura ball.

        There’s an interesting article in the DM reporting Cook justifying Buttler’s place in the team. Whether this was an orchestrated move or a few chance comments blown out of proportion, who knows? The rationale Cook uses to retain Buttler is a revealing glimpse into the mindset of those who’ve been near the top of the England tree for some time.

        Meanwhile, just 48 days until the CC season starts which might be long enough for the flood waters to subside!

  • Harminson was a tremendous bowler, for a short time I believe he was rated No.1 in the world. His spell in the first innings Lords 05 was mesmerizing and although we lost that Test it really put down a marker for the rest of the series.
    Sadly he seems to be judged by history more for bowling an opening ball of an Ashes series at first slip.

  • I loved the way Matthew described Harmison’s action. When he was confident, happy, and on form he had tremendous rhythm and looked every inch a world class fast bowler.

    In that spell at Sabina Park his rhythm was awesome. He looked in total control and bowled really quickly without ever looking like he was straining for pace. It was beautiful.

  • The problem most of us have with Harmison is the same as we have with Malcolm. His world beater days were few and far between. On their good days it was equally frustrating as you couldnt understand why they couldn’t produce the goods more often. Give me Willis or Simon Jones any day of the week as at least there was measure of consistency when they were fit. Their hearts were bigger too, that was one of Harmisons problems for me, too easily put off his stride. Considering the potential his career was disappointing.

    • I’m just focusing on amazing and memorable spells at the moment.
      After a man united semi final win in 99 Sir Alex said ‘sport is all about reaching peaks – who is going to forget a night like this?’
      For me this was the cricketing equivalent. I won’t forget this peak. Top class sport and a fast bowler at his best
      I hope you enjoyed the article 👍

      • I always enjoy reading another cricket fans slant on things, but I’ve always found Harmison a frustrating disappointment. To me he’s on a par with Malcolm and Dilley, who hardly ever get a mention in dispatches.
        As I said his good days just emphasised what there was in the tank that should have been tapped into more often. The ashes series in 2005 epitomises him to me. Under pressure to make the batsmen play at the death he was repeatedly found wanting, trying to bowl too fast and losing control, as he didn’t have the subtleties in his locker.

        • Harmison reached No 1 in the world, whilst personally I do not put too much faith into such ratings it is indicative of a consistently good player and not a “flash in the pan”.

          • I don’t think even Harmison’s greatest fans would use the word consistent to describe him. You just never knew which bowler was going to turn up and this was from one spell to another. I don’t say he was a flash in the pan, as he was selected many times for England, but for me he was a frustrating under achiever and his only consistency was inconsistency.
            As I said give me a Willis or Jones, when fit, any time.

        • I recall a slower ball at the end of a day that got Clarke – and really helped towards a victory. He was a fantastic bowler

  • As my nom de plume on this site may of course give away, Harmy’s coming of age moment in Kingston remains one of my favourite moments in cricket – a talent that Durham fans always knew he had in him finally expressing itself on the big stage. Central to his success on that Caribbean tour was the hard work on his fitness that he did, training with his beloved Newcastle United.

    For a year or so, Harmy really did look like he had the world at his feet, and Brian Lara as his “bunny” – it was a terrible shame that his battles with mental illness (which the ECB management hid under the cover of homesickness) prevented him from fulfilling his full potential.

  • 2 things to take from this, Harmison was a tremendous talent…and I cant believe ‘Harmy’s Head’ isn’t your real name! Glad you enjoyed the article.

  • One of these quiet days your take on today’s Spin item – what will cricket look like in ten years’ time? – would be one I’d like to read….


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