The day Steve Harmison took 7-12… and England had eight slips! Ahead of West Indies tour, Sportsmail revisit only Caribbean series win in 50 years
- It is 15 years since England registered first series win in West Indies since 1968
- Steve Harmison became the most feared bowler in world cricket in 2004
- In a devastating spell of 11.3 overs he took astonishing figures of seven for 12
- England fielded their fabled five-man Ashes attack of 2005 for the first time
A line of slip fielders spanning seven pitch widths, a giant fast bowler preying on a terrified tailender. It is an image synonymous with cricket in the Caribbean.
Only in this picture the hunters in question are not West Indians but Englishmen, members of the only England team able to reflect on a Test series victory in that part of the world since 1968.
The once-in-a-generation bowler orchestrating the once-in-a-half-century success was Steve Harmison who, with astonishing figures of seven for 12 at Sabina Park on March 14, 2004, became the opponent batsmen around the world most feared to face. For those who trade in pace, there is no greater compliment.
Steve Harmison orchestrated a once-in-a-half-century success for England 15 years ago
A line of slip fielders and a giant fast bowler is a sight synonymous with Caribbean cricket
What made it all the more remarkable is it came from nowhere. Then in his mid-20s, Harmison had combined the qualities of breakneck speed, hostility and accuracy sporadically and had been struggling with a back niggle that winter.
Having posted 311 in the first innings, West Indies were eight without loss in their second, 20 runs in arrears at the start of day four.
Michael Vaughan, the England captain, believed a chase of 200 would prove tough. The carnage that ensued reduced it to one of a mere 11 minutes.
Harmison tells Sportsmail: ‘During the first innings I found the pitch was too bouncy for me. If I didn’t bowl a half-volley, the ball was flying over the top of the stumps and it was only in the second innings that it started to settle down a bit.
Harmison took astonishing figures of seven for 12 as England dismissed West Indies for 47
Harmison became the opponent batsmen around the world most feared to face
‘I hate that terminology ‘in the zone’ but it was one of those times I felt invincible, that everything I let go of had the potential to do damage.
‘I was someone who liked to bowl a lot of overs during a spell but this felt like I could have bowled all day and wouldn’t have got tired. I spoke to Bob Willis about Headingley 1981 and he felt the same.’
Grievous Bodily Harmison, as he was dubbed, was abetted in the carnage by Chris Gayle’s flash at a widish delivery that Graham Thorpe clung on to high at third slip.
The paceman rarely erred in accuracy again during a devastating spell of 11.3 overs that attracted more and more catchers.
‘That field was all Michael’s idea because all I wanted was first slip, second slip and short leg,’ he recalls. ‘The way I was bowling I didn’t think the ball could possibly go anywhere else other than to the wicketkeeper.
‘He could have put the rest of them on the boundary for all I cared.’
His devastating spell of 11.3 overs attracted more and more close-field catchers
With breakneck speed, hostility and accuracy he became known as Grievous Bodily Harmison
Wicketkeeper Chris Read had the best seat in the house as West Indies were skittled for 47, their lowest Test score.
Read says: ‘That picture is iconic. It might be slightly exaggerating to say that was where the ball was most likely to go, but only slightly.
‘As a keeper or in the slips you felt in the game all the time. It was no wonder he became the No 1 ranked bowler in the world. He could be rapid.
‘Other bowlers may have hit the gloves harder, but because of the steep bounce he extracted, he also got good carry so you found yourself standing further back.’
Thorpe had been on the other end of the chin music on his first Caribbean tour in 1993-94, an experience he reflects upon as a ‘shock’. Now the tables had turned.
‘When Harmy clicked he was awesome,’ Thorpe says. ‘I am not sure he was bowling at his top speed, and to me that was key, because when he was at 95 per cent pace, with a high level of control and a little bit of shape from the ball, he was unplayable.
‘You don’t often get out-swing from very quick, tall bowlers, but he maintained it all series. The one guy who did a similar thing was Ian Bishop and at that pace those kind of bowlers are a nightmare to face.
The psychological blow for England’s 3-0 series triumph was delivered at Sabina Park
‘Half the time you’re looking out for the shorter ball and then the one that pitches on a length undoes your footwork.’
Nasser Hussain, who pouched Ridley Jacobs at short leg to begin a sequence of five wickets for six runs in 25 deliveries to end the innings, says: ‘It was a hostile spell. Good or bad, Harmy was very much a rhythm bowler.
‘I captained him at the start when he was bowling 12-ball overs and losing his run-up at Perth. You just knew there was no coming back on days like that.
‘The flip side was that when his legs were pumping and he got it right, he was incredibly intimidating.’
When Joe Root’s England arrive in Barbados on Friday, they are likely to encounter the sluggish surfaces upon which West Indies A whitewashed England Lions last year, rather than the sporting variety thrown up 15 years ago.
The one in Jamaica led to Mark Butcher watching the mayhem from an alternative vantage point.
England were able to field their fabled five-man Ashes attack of 2005 for the first time
‘I was battered, black and blue, having been to hospital for X-rays on my hand. I’d been pinged so many times in an innings of 58 that was worth about 300,’ he chuckles.
‘Me and Nass kept going off for bad light and rain during our hundred partnership, and in between we got beaten up badly.
‘We’d not seen Tino Best and Fidel Edwards before, both of whom bowled the speed of light that day, and made it pretty hairy for us. That was the most fearsome spell in Test cricket I ever faced.
‘I started the fourth day trying to get the swelling out of my hand because I wouldn’t have been able to catch anything. But I had a good seat watching the procession of West Indies batsmen going out and coming back.
‘There was utter disbelief and euphoria in the dressing room because you just never see that sort of s*** happen.’
The general view remains that the psychological blow for the 3-0 series triumph was delivered at Sabina Park, where England fielded what became their fabled five-man Ashes attack of 2005 for the first time.
Harmison and England’s pacemen inspired a first Test series victory in Caribbean since 1968
Harmison and all-round team-mate Andrew Flintoff celebrate the series victory in Barbados
But Butcher insists: ‘I thought what happened in the next Test at Trinidad was more significant. Harmy knocked over Brian Lara in the first innings, and bowled quicker and better there than in Jamaica.
‘He was sending down 90mph outswingers that were flying past people’s throats off a length. It was terrifying.’
Indeed, Harmison took six for 61 and, according to fellow fast bowler Simon Jones, was in the peak fitness of his career.
‘West Indies had a steady line-up, a couple of geniuses in Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, but they had no answer to him,’ reflects Jones.
‘For a long time we’d seen the potential in Harmy. He’d made his debut in 2002, so he had taken a while to find his feet. But from ball one out there, he showed what he could do.
‘The worst thing for me was going into the slips. I was right on the edge and there was no way I was going any nearer than that. I was happy chilling on the end.
‘As a fast-bowling unit we were all just starting to hit our straps, each of us took a five-for, and it was almost as if we’d all come together at the right time.’
Harmison knocked over Brian Lara in the second Test in Trinidad and took six for 61
Matthew Hoggard joined the part with a hat-trick in the third Test in Barbados
Jones’s five came in the second innings of that second Test. Then it was over to Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard in Barbados, either side of Thorpe hitting an unbeaten hundred to eke out a two-run lead on first innings.
Thorpe adds: ‘With an awesome bowling attack like that, you knew a score of 250 could keep you in the game.
‘So for the final 25 Tests of my career I found myself playing a bit differently. Previously we might have thought, “Unless we get 450 we’ve got no chance”, but they helped even things up.’
Hoggard’s hat-trick left a victory target of 93 on the way to an unassailable 3-0 lead. Lara would go on to achieve the world-record score (400 not out) for the second time in the finale in Antigua, but England’s pacemen had been sated.
‘In those days Hoggard had really long, blond hair and Nasser said his celebrations made him look like a Yeti chasing food,’ Jones remembers fondly.
Harmison concludes: ‘The transformation to us becoming best in the world started on that trip.’
In the final Test in Antigua, Brian Lara went on to achieve the world-record score of 400 not out
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