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On March 14, 2004, England’s enigmatic speedster, Steve Harmison, virtually blew away the West Indies side in the second innings of the first Test at Kingston, Jamaica. His spell of seven for 12 would be reverberated for generations to come. Bharath Ramaraj looks back at a fearsome spell by the English quick.
For batsmen, facing the heavy artillery from the Ashington Express, Steve Harmison, between 2003-05 was an intimidating prospect. The gentle giant breathed fire and brimstone by bowling at the speed of bullets and generating awkward bounce from even a good length. On March 14, 2004, he touched fabulous and compelling peaks at Kingston, Jamaica by ripping apart the West Indies batting line-up with a spell of seven for 12.
West Indies went into the series against England at home on the back of a humiliating series defeat at the hands of a pillaging South African setup. Yet, there was genuine hope that the likes of Tino Best, Fiedel Edwards and Corey Collymore would help West Indies to wrest back the Wisden Trophy from the hands of England. Shivnarine Chanderpaul and the Prince of Trinidad, Brian Lara were expected to be the mainstays of the batting line-up.
On the other hand, England fought tooth and nail against Sri Lanka away from home, before collapsing like a pack of cards in the final Test of the series at Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC). By the time England squad landed on the shores of the scenic Caribbean Islands, it was crystal clear that England coach Duncan Fletcher was looking for raw pace to send shivers down the spine of West Indian batsmen. So, it resulted in Harmison, Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff forming the pace troika.
The final pace bowling slot was a toss up between Matthew Hoggard and James Anderson. Anderson, due to coaches tinkering with his action had lost the plot. So, the experienced campaigner Hoggard got the nod ahead of him for the first Test. Ashley Giles was picked as the lone spinner of the side.
The proceedings before the Harmison-burst
West Indies skipper, Lara won the toss and chose to bat. They found themselves in a spot of bother at four for 101, before the inexperienced duo of Devon Smith and Ryan Hinds shepherded the batting and took them to a score of 311 runs on the board. In particular, Hinds’s ability to find the gaps with needlepoint precision against an attack that was hunting down batsmen like a pack of hungry wolves gave a glimpse of his gift-wrapped potential. The four pacers shared eight wickets between them for England with Ashley Giles chipping in with two.
If England envisaged building a large edifice in their first innings to seize control of the match, they were in for a rude shock. Best and especially, Edwards came charging into the crease like crazed bulls to remove both openers, Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick, respectively. Trescothick, especially looked completely dazed while facing the pace duo. Battling half-centuries from Mark Butcher and Nasser Hussain and some resolute batting down the order helped England to make a smart recovery and take a slender lead of 28 runs.
Harmison rattles West Indies
Now, when both Chris Gayle and Smith walked into the middle to resume West Indies’ second innings, no one, not even Harmison could have in their wildest of dreams imagined the Ashington Express scalping seven wickets for 12 runs.
With initial pressure being built up by Hoggard and Harmison, something had to give. Gayle, not known to play with steady perfection was the one to succumb to the pressure. To some extent, he threw his wicket away by attempting a forceful shot off the back-foot, only the ever agile Graham Thorpe to take a fine catch in the slip cordon.
Harmison’s next wicket was that of Ramnaresh Sarwan. By then, Harmison had gradually increased his pace and he got one to cut back sharply with almost geometric-like precision to trap him lbw. Arguably, it could have missed the stumps, but that deadly combination of pace and bounce was compelling to watch.
Chanderpaul was done in by high pace and more so disconcerting bounce from a good length. The red-cherry hit the slice of the bat and his stumps went for a walk in the park. The wicketkeeper-batsman, Ridley Jacobs arguably got the ball of the match. It was a snorter of a delivery from Harmison that kicked of a length and Jacobs had no other option, but to fend it off to the short-leg fielder, Hussain to complete an easy catch. The ball to Jacobs wasn’t one of the quickest deliveries bowled by Harmison. But any bowler who forces the batsman to make that slight adjustment by moving it off the pitch, in the air or producing bounce appears to be quicker than what the speed gun says.
Those poor tail-enders in the West Indies camp must have felt as if there was a volcano erupting from the track, as they were nothing more than sitting ducks against Harmison. The umbrella field set by captain Vaughan with only Hussain fielding in front of the wicket seemed like a sweet revenge for all those embarrassing defeats that England suffered at the hands of ruthless West Indies sides of the 1970s, 80s and early 90s. Incidentally, 10 years ago in 1994 at Port of Spain, Trinidad, Curtly Ambrose had glided smoothly into the crease to create havoc in the English ranks. Now, Harmison was dishing out something similar at the West Indies camp. As Michael Hodling famously said in the commentary box “This is the first time I have seen such a field by England.”
The primal force of the pace attack, Harmison landed the final nail in the coffin by dismissing the last man, Edwards, neatly caught by Trescothick in the slips. West Indies total of 47 was their lowest ever in their annals of cricket history. Harmison’s heart-stirring figures of seven for 12 was the third cheapest ever in an innings. Trescothick and Vaughan strolled towards the paltry target of 20 runs in a mere two overs to script a soul-lifting victory for England.
Harmison won plaudits for his ability to bowl at blistering speed and make the batsmen hop and duck with snorters whistling past their noses. In fact, 2004 was an annus mirabilis for him, as he went onto become the No 1 ranked bowler in world cricket. Eventually, on the back of their pace attack, England won their first series in West Indies for more than 30 years.
West Indies 311 (Devon Smith 108, Ryan Hinds 84; Matthew Hoggard 3 for 68) and 47 (Ridley Jacobs 15; Steve Harmison 7 for 12) lost to England 339 (Mark Butcher 58, Nasser Hussain 58; Tino Best 3 for 57) and 20 for no loss (Michael Vaughan 11*) by 10 wickets.
Man of the Match: Steve Harmison
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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