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“It was the quickest thing I had ever faced”

A chapter of cricketing history will come to a close this December as England play an Ashes Test at the WACA Ground in Perth for the final time.

An England cricket team first entered the WACA during the 1970/71 series and five days of play later left the west coast disappointed with a draw. Eight years down the line Bob Willis and John Lever decimated the Australian batting order, England won by an unflattering 166 runs. But in the 39 years since, England have not won a single Test in this bear-pit of a stadium; in fact, they haven’t come close.

The Cricketer sat down with a man very familiar with this graveyard for English success. Stephen Harmison is the proud owner of 63 Test caps and was once the number one ranked bowler in the world. But being the best is no hiding place in the cricketing equivalent of Hades.

“I’ve not got many good memories of that place, to be honest I’ve got a fair few bad ones.”

It was Harmison’s first visit to the western city in Test colours. As expected, the pitch was hard, the pitch was cracked, the pitch was nasty. Spectators winced as a Brett Lee delivery spat off the surface and barged through the gap between Alex Tudor’s helmet and grill at 90 mph. The English bowler hit the ground with blood pouring from his face. Lee even rushed over instantly offering his apologies, such was the severity of the injury.

Gilchrist lets loose

Tudor retired hurt; next man in was Harmison.

“I remember getting bounced by Lee the ball after he put Tudor in hospital.

“He got booed, but that didn’t make me feel any better. It was the quickest thing I had ever faced.”

Harmison scored five before being bowled by Lee, his wicket handing victory to the Australians by an innings and 48 runs.

Welcome to Perth, Steve.

Away from the western inferno, Harmison’s thundering run up and high action made him one of the most feared bowlers in Test cricket. Glenn McGrath was accurate, Muttiah Muralitharan moved the ball in ways batsmen could rarely predict, but Harmison was frightening. He may not have had the raw pace of Lee or Shoaib Akhtar but, even on green English wickets, the Durham bowler could ruffle a batsman like no other, just ask Ricky Ponting.

Harmison is bowled by Brett Lee

But the pitch and outfields are lightening quick in this batsman friendly arena. Aggressive bowling can be nullified by equally abrasive batting, a lesson that Harmison and his bowling attack learnt during the 3rd Test of the 2006/07 Ashes.

Battered in Brisbane, abject in Adelaide, England had to make changes out west. In came the raw duo of Monty Panesar and Sajid Mahmood, the latter intended to attack with the short ball while captain Andrew Flintoff hoped Panesar’s left arm twirlers would be too tempting for the opposition to resist. 

But rather than get out, in the third innings, Australian wicket keeper Adam Gilchrist tucked in, scoring a stunning 102 not out in only 59 balls.

“He went bezerk. It was the second fastest Test hundred in the history of the game [at the time], it was just ludicrous.

Church salutes the crowd as he reaches his century

“Poor Monty, Gilchrist just kept hitting them further and further. I was standing on the boundary, and even at 6ft 6” I was wasn’t close to getting anywhere near them.

“He was hitting balls out of Perth, not just the WACA.”

Gilchrist’s savagery set the visitors an unlikely 507 for victory. Predictably England fell 206 runs short and with that the urn was gone. The open top bus at Downing Street 18 months earlier suddenly felt like ancient history.

“It was one of those occasions where you walk off devastated, you have just lost the Ashes.

“But after a while when the series and your career is finished you think back to special moments, and being on the field when Adam Gilchrist did what he did, I still think, wow.

“There are times when, unfortunately, there is nothing you can do. When greatness is great there is nothing you can do…

“And boy Gilchrist was great that day."

Steve Harmison was speaking to Ed Krarup

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