English reputations blackened by whitewash

When a team does everything wrong, it is bound to get defeated. Ted Corbett writes on England's debacle.

When Steve Harmison returned to England after his first disastrous tour of Australia five years ago, a county cricket official who knows him well, whispered: "That boy will be captaining Ashington before he is 30."

This week-end, as Harmison returns to the pit village where the Charlton brothers, Jack and Bobby, grew up to be famous footballers and the only place where he feels at home, that day was much nearer.

He has probably played his last Test for England, he has at 28 retired prematurely from one-day internationals. He says he is going to spend the rest of the winter recharging his batteries and wait for Duncan Fletcher, the coach, to tell him what to do. Sadly, the phone may never ring.

Harmison is the bowler who might have made a difference but who finished with series bowling figures of 10 wickets at 61.4.

He might have been the ally Andrew Flintoff needed in times of crisis. He might have applied himself as a lower middle order batsman until he filled the role left vacant by Ashley Giles returning home to nurse his sick wife.

Harmison did not manage any of these tasks. Instead, so the rumour mills imply, he and Flintoff had a massive row just ahead of the second Test in Adelaide, the venue where not only did the wheels fall off but the main axle split from end to end.

Just as Headingley 1981 is still remembered as the Test in which an Ian Botham inspired England turned disaster into triumph, so Adelaide 2006 will always be the Test where England turned safety into defeat.

It was not all Harmison's fault but by the end of the tour sympathy for him had evaporated, particularly after a TV interview with the former England captain Mike Atherton, a fair-minded television commentator who usually sees the players' point of view.

Atherton asked if Harmison were sad to be going home and was visibly shocked that Harmison was "delighted to be off" and that after seven weeks hard work he needed "time to recharge his batteries".

The next morning I was confronted by an old Test fast bowler who asked: "Why don't you write to the ECB and tell them you never want to see Harmison wearing an England shirt again? I would if I were English."

Instead I am writing it here. Harmison, the man who threatened to be England's next great fast bowler when he ripped out seven West Indies batsmen for 12 runs and virtually won a Test series on his own, and who produced the bouncer that won the Edgbaston Test and set England off after the Ashes in 2005, is discredited.

Another former England player joined the conversation. "Seven weeks' hard work?" he shouted.

"When I first toured here, as a young married man, we were away for five months. Wives were forbidden to be here, phone calls were costly and difficult and we stayed in shared rooms in some pretty ordinary places. The wages were hardly likely to make us rich either.

"This man," and he pointed to where Harmison was warming up with the rest of the team, "has earned more than a million pounds in the past couple of years. He has been here seven weeks after a summer in which he hardly played.

"His wife and children have been with him for five of those weeks. If I were captain I would not want him in my side." And he strode off, visibly annoyed. Atherton sat at a table with a cup of coffee smiling quietly to himself.

These three are powerful commentators, capable of influencing the public over the airwaves and, in more private moments, able to guide selectors in making the right decisions. It is just one reason why the future of the man who should be England's premier fast bowler is dark.

Harmison hates travelling outside the north-east of England and he would rather be a Newcastle United centre half.

He did not make the grade at football and he has been kept in cricket by Flintoff's willingness to nurse him when he was lonely, play Game Boy until the early hours and stand at mid off urging him forward.

Now Flintoff has other responsibilities, needs to consider 15 tour party members rather than one and has his family with him too.

Harmison cannot solve his own problems but it looks as if the selectors will solve them for him.

Immediately after the final, humiliating scenes had been played out at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the ECB issued a statement saying that they would hold an inquiry into what went wrong.

I doubt if I am going to be called as a witness but here is my contribution anyway. Without Michael Vaughan, Simon Jones and Marcus Trescothick England were a flawed side. How would Australia have performed without Ricky Ponting, Stuart Clark and Justin Langer? Not anything like as well, certainly.

There was no cure for those gaps in the team but what followed was plain daft.

Duncan Fletcher, the coach — the serious voice on the selection committee — decided that he would keep as many players from the Ashes winning team as possible. Hence the inclusion of Giles and Geraint Jones, who had played major parts in that famous victory. Giles had been injured and Jones dropped.

Monty Panesar and Chris Read had done nothing wrong, indeed Panesar forced Fletcher to change his mind about his ability when he won the third Test against Pakistan Yet, against all logic, they were replaced.

Just ask yourselves. When was there last a successful Test side with a poor wicket-keeper who made runs?

As the tour began Geoff Boycott, a man with a huge reputation for cricket logic, wrote that Fletcher must be replaced. Right thinking; bad timing.

It is time for Fletcher to go, not because he is inefficient but because, as Boycott wrote, there is a shelf life for coaches — usually about five years — and Fletcher has overstayed his natural life span by keeping his job for seven years.

The timing of the article was atrocious and I wonder if the players lost respect for Fletcher, knowing he was likely to be replaced some time soon.

John Buchanan, the Australian coach, is going and several more coaches seem ready to go after the World Cup.

When the Australians found they had lost the Ashes, the players got together and formed their own inquiry. Informally, over a beer or a coffee. Their determination won back the Ashes.

They were able to do it because they knew that they would play again. Too much time is taken up by England's selectors who choose sides rather than letting them stay together.

It is why, quite rightly, Harmison will lose his place but it might be better if the selectors pointed out the errors in his thinking and gave him a new chance to put England on the right path again.

He is not going to win back the Ashes leading Ashington but he might leading the England attack in 2009.

The Scores

Sydney, January 2 to 5, 2007. Australia won by 10 wickets.

England — 1st innings: A. J. Strauss c Gilchrist b Lee 29; A. N. Cook c Gilchrist b Clark 20; I. R. Bell b McGrath 71; K. P. Pietersen c Hussey b McGrath 41; P. D. Collingwood c Gilchrist b McGrath 27; A. Flintoff c Gilchrist b Clark 89; C. M. W. Read c Gilchrist b Lee 2; S. I. Mahmood c Hayden b Lee 0; S. J. Harmison lbw b Clark 2; M. S. Panesar lbw b Warne 0; J. M. Anderson (not out) 0; Extras (lb-5, w-3, nb-2) 10; Total 291.

Fall of wkts: 1-45, 2-58, 3-166, 4-167, 5-245, 6-258, 7-258, 8-282, 9-291.

Australia bowling: McGrath 29-8-67-3; Lee 22-5-75-3; Clark 24-6-62-3; Warne 22.4-1-69-1; Symonds 6-2-13-0.

Australia — 1st innings: J. L. Langer c Read b Anderson 26; M. L. Hayden c Collingwood b Harmison 33; R. T. Ponting (run out) 45; M. E. K. Hussey c Read b Anderson 37; M. J. Clarke c Read b Harmison 11; A. Symonds b Panesar 48; A. C. Gilchrist c Read b Anderson 62; S. K. Warne st. Read b Panesar 71; B. Lee c Read b Flintoff 5; S. R. Clark c Pietersen b Mahmood 35; G. D. McGrath (not out) 0; Extras (lb-10, w-4, nb-6) 20; Total 393.

Fall of wkts: 1-34, 2-100, 3-118, 4-155, 5-190, 6-260, 7-318, 8-325, 9-393.

England bowling: Flintoff 17-2-56-1; Anderson 26-8-98-3. Harmison 23-5-80-2; Mahmood 11-1-59-1; Panesar 19.3-0-90-2.

England — 2nd innings: A. J. Strauss lbw b Clark 24; A. N. Cook c Gilchrist b Lee 4; I. R. Bell c Gilchrist b Lee 28; K. P. Pietersen c Gilchrist b McGrath 29; P. D. Collingwood c Hayden b Clark 17; A. Flintoff st. Gilchrist b Warne 7; M. S. Panesar (run out) 0; C. M. W. Read c Ponting b Lee 4; S. I. Mahmood b McGrath 4; S. J. Harmison (not out) 16; J. M. Anderson c Hussey b McGrath 5; Extras (b-2, lb-3, w-1, nb-3) 9; Total 147.

Fall of wkts: 1-5, 2-55, 3-64, 4-98, 5-113, 6-114, 7-114, 8-122, 9-123.

Australia bowling: Lee 14-5-39-3; McGrath 21-11-38-3; Clark 12-4-29-2; Warne 6-1-23-1; Symonds 5-2-13-0.

Australia — 2nd innings: J. L. Langer (not out) 20; M. L. Hayden (not out) 23; Extras (lb-3) 3;

Total (for no wkt.) 46.

England bowling: Anderson 4-0-12-0. Harmison 5-1-13-0. Mahmood 1.5-0-18-0.