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Ashes 2023

Steve Harmison: England under Ben Stokes are the best team in the world, but Australia have better players

Steve Harmison: England Have Taken The Game To A Level No One Has Ever Seen Before, They'll Win The Ashes This Summer
by Wisden Staff 4 minute read

Former England fast bowler and 2005 Ashes winner Steve Harmison has backed a “more calculated” Ben Stokes to lead England to an Ashes series victory this summer.

Speaking a month before the series starts, Harmison credited Stokes’s leadership with making England one of the best sides in the world over the course of the last 12 months.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing how Ben goes,” said Harmison, speaking to OnlineCricketBetting.net. “He’s had to take a lot of responsibility in playing a way himself, which is what he wants to do, but he sometimes finds it hard to do from ball one. But because he’s probably made those mistakes in shot selection when it comes to his own batting, he’s been able to say to his dressing room – I’m the man in charge, I’m the leader and this is how I want us to play.


“If a leader makes a mistake, a leader takes it on the chin, a leader takes everything with him, but this is how I want us to fulfill all our potential so we can take the game to a level no one’s ever seen before.”

England’s sensational turnaround in fortune since Stokes took over as captain over a year ago has seen them win 10 out of their 12 Test matches in that time. They have yet to lose a Test series under Stokes and Brendon McCullum’s leadership.

Last month, Stokes reiterated his approach to Test cricket, saying that he would still declare with the Ashes on the line in the final Test match of the series and a lead of 300. In an endorsement of this approach, Harmison said he would have backed the same decision in 2005.

“He thinks it’s the right thing to do to win,” said Harmison. “There’s no reason why you wouldn’t do that. This is what it means being in leadership, if he has all these words and gives these rousing speeches and wants his team to play a certain way, then all of a sudden by not fulfilling it and going through with it, all of a sudden you get people not quite believing in you, not quite going with you, all of a sudden you’re on a slippery slope and you can’t stop. So I can see Ben doing that.

“I don’t think they will be as outrageous as what they have been. Like I said before I think they’ll be a lot more calculated decisions during this series, but the majority of them will be positive. The majority of them will be with a view of England trying to win this cricket match and if it’s 350 on the final day at The Oval, and Ben decides that’s enough and declares I’ve got no doubt, full confidence that he’ll do it.”

“Australia are a good side, they’re a very, very good side. I go back to 2005, and if you go head for head you would probably say Australia have got better players than England. And I think that was the case in 2005, but we went into 2005 as the best team in the world and that’s why we won. England, I think for me, under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum are the best team in the world at this moment in time in Test match cricket. But Australia technically and talent wise I think have got the better players… But I think England are the best team in the world at this minute in time and I’d much rather have the best team in the world going into a big series than a team of better individuals.”

As the start of the series looms closer, England’s biggest concern is over their fast bowling lineup, as injuries begin to mount up. Jofra Archer has been ruled out of the summer’s action, James Anderson and Ollie Robinson are also nursing injuries.

“Slowly but surely we seem to be losing one after another,” said Harmison. “And it’s now looking like the old guard are going to have to perform.”

“It’s a pool [of fast bowlers] where you think, in Australia they could be a handful never mind in England where the ball does a little bit more… I think Jimmy will be fine, I saw him last week and I think Mark Wood will be fine. It will be interesting to see how they use him now because with no Jofra, I think Brydon Carse might be somebody they use as backup. Potts is the next of the quicker bowlers but I don’t think Matthew [Potts] is in the same pace category as the others and there’s no Olly Stone.

“They might have to play Mark Wood four out of five Tests somehow and try to get him through. I would try to play him as much as they possibly could while the series is alive. Keep trying to put him back bit by bit and if it means he only plays five games of cricket between now and the World Cup then for me he’s key, Mark Wood is hugely key in this series now because of the injuries to everybody else. Fingers crossed for Ollie Robinson because I think he’s massive for us. But if he’s not you’ll be looking at the older guard of Broad, Anderson and probably Wood to try to get through four or five Test matches to win the Ashes.”

Speaking on Jofra Archer’s continued struggles with injury, Harmison also backed the fast-bowler to make a successful comeback to international cricket.

“You have to get over the dark few weeks because it’s a lonely existence,” he said. “You look at Jofra and he still looked a million dollars when he came to the IPL. He’s been doing everything right but there’s something structurally not right. Mentally you need your friends and your family around you and hopefully Jofra is getting that because it’s sad to see what’s happening to him at this moment in time.

“I feel more for him than I do for the England cricket team. When somebody’s been out for so long, it’s hard work, it’s heart-breaking but his time will come. He’ll come back, I have no doubt he’ll come back, you’ve just got to look over the other side at Pat Cummins. After four years after Pat Cummins made his debut, four years later if someone had said Pat Cummins will play fifty Test matches they would have laughed at you. If you would have said he was captain of Australia, I think Pat would have laughed at you. He’s now the best bowler in the world in my opinion. So you can have injury problems and still fulfil a fantastic career. Pat Cummins has done it and there’s no reason why Jofra can’t do it either.”

As Australia and England go into their final fixtures ahead of the series, England against Ireland at Lord’s and Australia against India in the WTC final, Harmison has predicted a blockbuster summer of cricket to follow.

“I think it’s going to be an epic series unless it rains,” he said. “Don’t buy tickets for day five, that’s my biggest advice to anybody in this series because I don’t think we’re going that far unless it rains for a day. I think we’re going to get five results. England 3-2.”

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