Whilst watching the opening matches of the CB Series from the comfort of his favourite armchair in the family home in Ashington, Steve Harmison must have found a small part of himself feeling pleased. Not pleased that England were losing, he is far too much of a patriot and a decent bloke for that; but that the bowlers his voluntary retirement had ushered into the side were not exactly ripping up trees or more importantly stumps. I doubt he is feeling quite so content now.
Only a fool would suggest that Harmison did not retire from the limited overs game this winter without the thought that his test place was secure. He has been England's main strike bowler for the best part of 5 years and has always looked worthy of that position; until last year that is.
2006 was an awful year for Harmison, he lost his rhythm, his rudder, and finally in the 2007 Ashes came the final humiliation as the responsibility of the new ball was taken away from him. He took this on the chin as a decision for the team, but deep down it must have hurt and angered him. Ambrose, Donald, Walsh, McGrath, Vaas, Gough - great and even just good fast bowlers simply do not lose the new ball. Ever.
The latter part of the CB Series saw a massive improvement in the bowling of England's young pretenders which no doubt caused Harmison to shift in his armchair. Anderson was finally shaping the ball before injury took him out of the reckoning. Liam Plunkett drew praise from the likes of Ian Chappell, Saj Mahmood continued to show the immense promise which we all know he has, and Stuart Broad is currently bowling very well on the A tour.
The one thing all of these young bowlers have shown is a strength of character to keep plugging away and applying themselves to the basics in testing circumstances, something that Harmison has shown very little of for eighteen months. One wide ball at the beginning of a test match was all it took to turn Harmison into a frankly terrible bowler, which is not good enough at even at club level.
If England by some miracle have a good World Cup (or even an average one) and these bowlers show up well, questions may well be asked about just what Harmison brings to the team. A seam up pace bowler is only any good when they are bowling with ferocious pace and consistently into the correct areas. Should Mahmood do this in the Caribbean it will cause Harmison and indeed the selectors to shift even more uncomfortably in their respective thrones.Harmison is 30 this year, he does not have the time to learn his art again and so needs to find form and attitude again very quickly. For his sake I hope the time spent at home this winter has been more productive than getting overs in against the best batsmen in the world. If not, come the summer he may find himself contemplating another retirement decision.