With retirement looming, Stephen Harmison is thinking about giving something back to Durham when his playing career finishes – but not before one last contribution before then, writes Stuart Rayner
STEPHEN Harmison knows more acutely than most the end of a glorious cricket career is nigh, but that will not stop him trying to keep it at bay.
If Harmison was the type to massage his ego by bowing out at the top, he would have gone years ago.
In 2009 he was part of an Ashes-winning England team.
Like Durham becoming county champions, it was something many thought they would never see when Harmison made his first-class debut in 1996, yet the fast bowler from Ashington did both twice.
Harmison publicly stated he did not expect to play for England again, but he would always be there if they needed him.
If truth be told, his career has been on a downward curve ever since.
Without the 12 months-a-year workload which toughens a fast bowler’s body in its prime and dogged by misfortune, injuries have eroded his Durham career to the point where he started last season a second-teamer and ended further back in the pecking order.
On the field at least, the Riversiders have had little return on the four-year contract signed after the 2009 Ashes.
Harmison, though, still feels he has something to give.
Last week’s launch of his benefit year was an opportunity to look back on his career. He was looking forward.
Harmison said: “I want more. I am never going to be a rocket scientist!
“I just love playing cricket at a professional level. This is the last year of my contract and I’m not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.
“This is hopefully to try to raise the money to allow me to do other things when my playing days are over.
“I’m hoping I’ve organised things at times when I’m not under pressure with cricket. There’s a golf day in the middle of a week where we have one-day cricket, which I’ve not played any games in for a while.
“The cricket match leads into the Twenty20 Cup and hopefully it will be a very, very good warm-up for Durham.
“Michael Vaughan’s going to captain the team which will contain five or six of the Ashes 2005 team, along with other international players who have played for a long time. It should be a competitive game.
“They’re the only two events which fall in the cricket calendar because I’m mindful I want to play cricket. The last two or three years haven’t been great for me. I have one year left and I want to make it a good one. Whatever part I can play for Durham, I want to make sure they’re winning competitions again.”
The stiffness as he sits is because Harmison has been putting his 34-year-old body through indoor bowling nets – something he does not like and, during an England career where it was summer every day, rarely had to do. The Ashington Express added: “I have 10 weeks before we all get back together properly and ideally I’d like to be doing 16 to 20 overs a week indoors to get myself into a position where I can go outside in a relatively strong position, not trying to play catch-up as I was last year.
“I was injured on February 1 and wasn’t even fit for the pre-season games.
“If I give Durham a full season of playing it means I’m bowling well because they have fantastic bowlers.”
When the county switched four-day captain halfway through the 2012 season his long-time England team-mate Paul Collingwood demanded bowlers take wickets through pressure, not the explosiveness which is Harmison’s trademark.
Within days he was loaned to Division Two Yorkshire and, when injury cut short his stay, Harmison’s season ended with it.
Were he not such a team man, it would be undignified for someone who far exceeded his youthful expectations.
“At 14 or 15 years-old I probably would have said, ‘What’s cricket?!’” jokes a man who remains football-mad.
“I started at 11 or 12 but it was nowhere near serious. I thought the only thing you used a ball for was to kick it! When I made my debut it was something I was quite good at, but I didn’t think it was going to go too far.
“It wasn’t until 1998 the penny dropped that I could be good at this. Lots of people are good enough to play for England, but it’s between the ears which is more important than anything else.
“I felt mentally I had the right stuff. A heck of a lot went on in my career. I had lots of things to combat, but I still played for England for nearly 10 years.”
Harmison’s benefit is more than simply a nest egg.
Niall Quinn’s example means top-level sportsmen can no longer pocket entire testimonial proceeds, so Harmison will repay a coach who did more than most for his career.
The late Sir Bobby Robson was a football manager but a cricket fan who took Harmison under his wing and, by inviting him to train with Newcastle United, gave him role models for professionalism.
His Foundation for the early detection and treatment of cancer is the benefit’s sole charity.
Once 2013 ends, Harmison may have to find a new direction. He added: “I’ve always said I could never coach someone like me, it’d be a nightmare. It’s something that I’ve never really thought of.
“But I’ve been given so much by Durham if there’s anything I can do for the rest of my life to give something back I’d like to think I would. In whatever way.”