Barmy, no Harmy!
Pre-hostilities, pot-shots over omission of Harmison
SOUTH AFRICA coach Mickey Arthur has fired the first shots ahead of England’s winter tour by claiming his batsmen are “pretty happy” they won’t be facing Steve Harmison.
Arthur believes his pace attack has the edge over England’s going into the four-Test series starting on December 16.
Harmison complained his omission from the 16-man squad defied logic after he was selected for the last two Ashes Tests at Headingley and The Brit Oval and Arthur’s comments will be grist to the mill for those who believe the Durham fast bowler has been shoddily treated by the selectors.
“He was the one England bowler who could rough us up,” Arthur said.
“If they’re trying to build a team for the next Ashes and Harmison isn’t going to be there, I can see why they’ve done it. But a few of our batters will have seen that tour party and been pretty happy he’s not on the plane – especially with our wickets, which will have plenty of pace and bounce. He would have been a very awkward proposition.”
Harmison’s previous visit to South Africa, in 2004-05, was a personal disaster. He took nine wickets in five Tests at an average of 73 after the hosts targeted what they viewed as a suspect temperament.
But for all his failings, he has never quite lost the fastbowling X-factor – that indefinable quality which keeps batsmen on their toes even when the radar isn’t fully functional.
Arthur said: “We saw how dangerous Mitchell Johnson was against us on both Australian and South African wickets, because his stock ball – back of a length – was getting rib high on bouncy tracks and hitting batsmen under the heart.
“In England, he wasn’t helped by the slow pitches, but Harmison could have done the same thing as Johnson out here.”
The upshot is that Arthur believes South Africa have the more lethal pace arsenal in a series they need only draw to retain the Basil d’Oliveira Trophy. Encounters between the countries have been tense since South Africa returned to the fold post-apartheid. Of the seven Test series since 1994, South Africa have won three and England two with two draws. But a narrow gap could be about to widen.
“We have the edge with our pace attack,” said Arthur. “It’s world class. Dale Steyn’s been doing great, Morne Morkel’s progressing, Makhaya Ntini’s doing a decent job and Jacques Kallis can still swing them away at 87mph-plus. We have four guys who can whack it down and we certainly feel we can get into their top order with the new ball.”
And the South Africans have not been slow to seize on an impending selection dilemma for the tourists. Captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower must decide whether to pick four bowlers or five following the retirement from Tests of Andrew Flintoff.
The first option would entail wicketkeeper Matt Prior batting at No 7 and lending depth to the lower order – a scenario made all the more tempting by the revelation that former England coach Duncan Fletcher has been helping the South Africa tail with their batting. The alternative is Prior at No 6, his Ashes slot, with Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann at No 7 and No 8.
Either way, Arthur believes England, who fly out to South Africa this week for the one-day leg of the tour, could be storing up trouble. He said: “Kevin Pietersen will come back, so Ian Bell or Paul Collingwood will lose out – and that could destabilise them a bit.
“The easy option would be to play six batters and have Matt Prior at No 7. But that would mean only three seamers plus Swann, and then they would have to rely on Collingwood’s bowling, and he needs to do some work on that.”
Arthur is an admirer of the work Strauss and Flower have done following the PietersenMoores debacle – so much so that he refuses to criticise the England captain for denying opposite number Graeme Smith a runner when he suffered cramps during the recent Champions Trophy clash.
But South Africa are the No 1 side in Tests and Arthur’s confidence suggests they do not intend to relinquish that position any time soon.
GRAEME Swann has backed Ian Bell after former England seamer Andy Caddick questioned the Warwickshire batsman’s position in the Test team.
Swann, who will team up with Bell this winter for the Test series against South Africa, said: “He’s a fine player and a valuable member of the squad. It’s a shame that an explayer feels inclined to take a pop at the current crop, especially someone who’s so recently finished playing. Obviously he’s got his agenda.”
Caddick accused Bell of failing to “perform under pressure”and asked: “Why the hell is Ian Bell still in the England side?’
Swann also insisted he and Jimmy Anderson would carry on using Twitter, despite captain Andrew Strauss suggesting that England cricketers using the social networking website would need to be looked at after a foul-mouthed outburst by Yorkshire and England all-rounder Tim Bresnan. – Daily Mail