Opinion: Harmison exits without a fuss

Steve Harmison was innately decent and certainly not a beast of a fast bowler – and should be congratulated for achieving plenty in a sporting bubble that doesn't have time to understand the vagaries of the mind, writes Tim Ellis.

In the end, Steve Harmison went almost as quietly as Matthew Hoggard. Perhaps he was an enigma to those that did not understand how professionals could be subject to life's bows and arrows.

Some critics only seem to view performance in a vacuum. They decry failure as much as over-inflating success, never understanding that these people are human beings. No-one wants a team of robots.

Andrew Flintoff made a television programme on the BBC last year about depression, something that afflicted him heavily at his lowest ebb. Among the victims he chose to interview was Harmison. They had been mates and buddies at key times through their cricket careers and you could sense there was an extra sense of joy on and off the pitch when things went well for both.

Underneath it all, you sensed a great frustration in Flintoff which has driven him to distraction and other pursuits after cricket. Harmison seemed even more withdrawn – or "homesick", as was the code when things were getting on top of him.

"People think that if you play for England then you cannot be depressed. That's rubbish", said the 34-year-old, who played 63 Test matches and took 223 wickets at an average of just under 32. When the man born in Northumberland was fit and firing on all cylinders, he was a more than just a handful.

The years between 2003 and 2005 were most productive, although the standout performance will always be the seven for 12 he took to run through the West Indies at Sabina Park in 2004. It was probably the moment England realised they had a monumental bowling attack.

As a player, Harmison blew hot and cold, but even some of his most unmemorable games in statistical terms were less important than the awkwardness he caused for top-class batsmen.

'Harmy' could produce extra bounce, pace and stamina, culminating in a fire and brimstone opening over during the Ashes in 2005. There's nothing like hitting the Australian captain – legally of course. Spearheading an attack that contained Flintoff, Simon Jones and Hoggard was a safety valve for a man that struggled deeply with the extra stress of the game.

There always seemed an innate decency about Harmison, very much a family man who was happiest in the North East. There is a picture of him looking out of a window in South Africa when it was pouring with rain during the 2004 tour. He wasn't at his best in the big series abroad – averaging over 70 against the Proteas and more than 60 in the dreaded return Ashes of 2006. Even so, he should be congratulated for achieving much in a sporting bubble that doesn't have time to understand the vagaries of the mind.

In December last year, the big man said: "Come September, if Durham win something then I will be a very proud man, and whatever I achieve in that time is irrespective." He didn't announce his retirement during Durham's surge to the title either because he did not want to distract from the achievement. That is a window into the man. He wasn't a beast. Maybe that cost him a better international career. Frankly, it doesn't really matter.

<b>Tim Ellis</b>