TWENTY-FOUR hours before Durham’s season gets under way at Chester-le-Street, Stephen Harmison will be playing second-team cricket in Stokesley.
The bowler once ranked the best on the planet will turn out for the reserves in a friendly against Yorkshire this morning.
After two injury-hit seasons, Durham are anxious not to rush the Ashington Express into the action before he is ready.
With so many other bowling options, they have no need to do so.
So while Graham Onions, Callum Thorp, Mitchell Claydon and Ruel Brathwaite will be fighting over three spots in the team to face Nottinghamshire in the County Championship tomorrow, Harmison will be searching for match-fitness and rhythm at Marton.
The 33-year-old has always been a bowler who has needed overs under his belt to be at his best.
He missed the start of pre-season with injured ankle tendons after a freak accident during an indoor training drill.
He played in a two-day friendly, also against Yorkshire at the start of the month, where he received harsh treatment at the hands of Jonny Bairstow.
With Durham anxious to test Thorp’s fitness in his first proper cricket of the year, Harmison was left out of the final pre-season game at home to Durham University. Harmison, who is 66 short of Simon Brown’s record for the most first-class wickets for Durham, is realistic about the situation. He is adamant the team comes first.
He said: “My aim is to play cricket and stay fit.
“If that is 10 or 12 Championship games, so be it, I just want to contribute because I have not done that the last two years.
“I am not over the hill just yet. I have a big, big part to play in what will be a massive year for Durham County Cricket Club.”
Harmison will not be the only former England bowler on view, with Liam Plunkett set to share the new ball with him
Not for the first time, Plunkett remodelled his action in the winter after a 2011 in which he seemed to lose all confidence. The Teessider made just two Championship appearances last term, and in some one-day matches neither batted nor bowled.
The strength of Durham’s second-team today is an indication of their strength in depth at the start of the campaign.