Steve Harmison: back in the fray.
South Africa's coach, Mickey Arthur, has ramped up the mindgames ahead of the third Test at Edgbaston by accusing England of seeking a "quick fix" in their hasty recall of Steve Harmison.
Harmison was dropped after a lacklustre showing in England's first-Test defeat against New Zealand at Hamilton in March, and has been missing from their last seven Tests, of which England have won four and lost one, against South Africa at Headingley last week. However, his season haul of 41 first-class scalps, coupled with a concern about England's lack of firepower in the current series, has prompted a selectorial U-turn.
"I don't know what England's plans are," Arthur told reporters at Edgbaston. "If they were planning down the line for the Ashes, they would probably be going with the young pack. If they are desperate and looking for a win right now, they might go back to a quick fix. I don't know the team structure and what the vision is for the team. That is up to them."
Harmison's recall means that one of Ryan Sidebottom, James Anderson or Stuart Broad will have to make way to accommodate him, and the favourite at this stage is Broad, whose recent prowess with the bat has masked a lack of cutting edge with the ball. Even so, Harmison's impending return has attracted criticism, not least from the former England captain, Mike Atherton, who wrote in The Times that "[it] sends a terrible message; that is does not matter if, time and again, you underperform ... there will always be another chance."
Harmison, however, has heard it all before in his enigmatic career. "I'm not looking to prove any points, the selectors made a decision and everybody is talking about them," he said. "A lot of people thought you'd never see me in an England shirt again, but I was never one of them and that is the thing. If I was one then I'd have gladly said I couldn't carry on and pack it in, but no.
"When I left New Zealand I asked 'what have I got to do to get back in' and I think I've gone away, knuckled down and done it. That is what I wanted to do because I've always wanted to play for England. I can only do what I've been doing and if I play this week or next week it doesn't matter as long as I'm at that stage where I'm near the top of the ladder at where I want to be."
Despite his queries, Arthur conceded that the reports about Harmison's recent form probably merited a recall, and he also believed that Paul Collingwood would return to the eleven after being omitted from the Headingley Test to incorporate Andrew Flintoff. "I did expect changes by England," said Arthur. "Collingwood is a superb player and by all accounts Harmison seems to be bowling really well. Whichever way they go, they are bringing in two experienced players.
"I'd be very surprised if Collingwood didn't play. That would surprise me. But it is just how they fit Harmison into the team," he said. "Do they risk going with one less batsman with Tim Ambrose at No.6 and Andrew Flintoff at No.7 and a long tail starting at 8? Or do they go with Collingwood at 6, Flintoff at 7 and Ambrose at 8, and a bit less on the bowling front but more of a strong batting line-up? That is their decision."
For all the confidence that South Africa have taken from their display at Headingley, they are well aware of the dangers that England pose on home soil. On three occasions since readmission - in 1994, 1998 and 2003 - they have gone 1-0 up in the series but failed to secure outright victory. "it makes us stronger because there are a Lot of guys in our dressing room who have held leads over England here and haven't finished it off," said Arthur. "This time they are determined to make the lead count."
South Africa expect to make one change to the side that won by ten wickets in the second Test. Dale Steyn has sustained a fractured thumb so makes way for Andre Nel, while Jacques Kallis has been passed fit despite injuring his ring finger while batting against Bangladesh A on Thursday. Graeme Smith sat on training on Monday, but is not considered an injury doubt.
"We expect a better performance from England," he said. "They will have been hurt by the criticism they received and we expect them to come out firing."