Harmison: You can’t be gobbled up by pressure
STEVE HARMISON says England’s Ashes virgins must learn fast how to withstand the intense pressure created by allout Australian hostility on and off the field this winter or risk being “gobbled up” by it.
Harmison enjoyed his best days in an England shirt against the Aussies, as the spearhead of the pace attack that helped an unfancied team win the 2005 series against Ricky Ponting’s world champions in a contest considered by many to be the greatest Ashes series.
But the gentle Durham giant also suffered his worst moment in cricket against them, when he opened the rematch in the first Test of the 2006-07 series in Brisbane’s ‘Gabbatoir’ with what he himself describes as “the worst opening ball in the history of Ashes cricket”.
Harmison admits that the delivery he sent directly into the hands of his friend and skipper Andrew Flintoff at second slip, which prompted ridicule from home supporters and which some believe set the tone for England’s 5-0 thrashing, was the result of him letting the pressure of the occasion get to him.
The Ashes new boys in Joe Root’s inexperienced squad, who arrive in Australia this weekend as clear second favourites in their attempt to retain the Ashes, have already been given a taste of what will be in store from Aussie opener David Warner’s comments about going to war against England and finding ways to hate his opponents.
And Harmison stresses they must be swiftly brought up to speed with what they are certain
> to face between touchdown and the end of the five-match series in January if they are to stand any chance of victory.
According to Harmison: “The one thing these England players need to know and the ones who haven’t been to Australia have to be told quickly is what is going to happen to them the minute they get off the plane.
“I’ve been on the end of it. It’s not pleasant but that’s life. Each player needs to be sure in themselves that what the opposition says, or what they hear from the crowd or the bloke in the lift or the people in the street or in the papers or on TV is of no relevance to them as an individual or as part of a collective unit.
“They need to understand what sort of environment it is and they have to deal with it very quickly. If they don’t they’ll get gobbled up.”
Root himself is acutely aware of what he and his players can expect from Aussie crowds as they and fiercely partisan sections of their media combine to ramp up the pressure.
Recalling his first taste of it in 2013-14 he described walking out to bat to chants of “Root is a w****er”, while Stuart Broad was derided as a cheat all winter over his failure to walk for a catch behind in the previous series, with Aussie coach Darren Lehmann publicly urging crowds to give him plenty.
And, after Warner called England’s batsmen weak and scared at facing Mitchell Johnson in the first Test in Brisbane four years ago, Jonathan Trott succumbed to mental stresses which forced him to fly home from the series after one match.
England will arrive in Australia with their least experienced Ashes squad since James Lillywhite’s XI stepped off the boat in March 1887 to start the ball rolling.
Nine members of Root’s party, Moeen Ali, Jake Ball, Mason Crane, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Mark Stoneman, James Vince and Chris Woakes have never played a Test in Australia, the skipper has played four, Steven Finn three, Jonny Bairstow two and Gary Ballance one.
Thirty-five of the 45 Test caps won Down Under by members of the 2017-18 squad are shared by three players: Alastair Cook (15), James Anderson (13) and Broad (7).
Yet Harmison also believes Warner may be in danger of distracting himself with the kind of inflammatory language he used recently.
The Australian opener has attempted to row back from his original comments, which amounted to a declaration of war on the Poms, but Harmison thinks the self-damage may already have been done.
“If David Warner wants to go to war let him go to war,” says Harmison. “He’d manage to do that in an empty room, to be honest. But fingers crossed it knocks him off his own game.
“For me, Joe Root, Kane Williamson, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers are the top four batters in the world, but, on his day, Warner, along with Hashim Amla, is not far behind. So if his attention is swayed in any way, happy days.”
Warner has come in for strong criticism for his comments, with members of The Cricket Paper’s Ashes panel adding to it elsewhere in this week’s issue.
Former England great Jack Russell called them “brainless”, adding: “If he has to do that then there is something wrong with him. Just because it’s the Ashes there’s no need to hate anybody.”
David ‘ Bumble’ Lloyd said: “These lads have to understand they are custodians of the Ashes. There are standards to maintain.”
Worst moment: Harmison began the 2006/7 Ashes with a wide