Speaking on the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast, former England quick Stephen Harmison discussed the up-and-down start his cricket career had, including a first-class debut for Durham which must rank among the worst in history.
“[Cricket] wasn’t something I enjoyed first up,” he said. “My debut lasted a day and a half. We started on the Thursday morning, Leicestershire won the Championship that day. They bowled us out for about 80, got 500, and then bowled us out for 120. The game was over in a day and a half.”
The scorecard shows the thumping is perhaps even worse than Harmison is letting on. While their innings actually reached 126 and 139, it was an especially tough game for the wet-behind-the-ears seamer. Employed at fourth change after Vince Wells and Darren Maddy had laid the platform, he received the brunt of an assault from Ben Smith and West Indian overseas star Phil Simmons, who made 70 and 171 respectively and each scored at over a run a ball.
Harmison was taken out of the attack having bowled only nine overs, but still having conceded 77 runs. It wasn’t all bad; somehow, amongst the carnage, he managed to bowl a maiden.
The right-armer could easily have been lost to cricket at this point. He concedes it wasn’t something he loved, and more bad experiences were to come before the good times rolled round. It was a timely intervention from Durham coach Geoff Cook that helped him finally settle in.
“Cricket for me was something I played during the summer for maybe 10 weeks,” he said. “I was always about football, missed the start of the cricket season, missed the end of the cricket season because of football, and I fell into cricket really.
“I went to Pakistan that winter with England under 19s, lasted about a fortnight, didn’t really realise what the world was, came back, wasn’t really that interested in cricket. I missed the whole of the 1997 season with a back injury and then fell back into around Christmas time when Geoff Cook came back to have another go at us to then get ready for the start of the 1998 season, and from there never looked back.”
England will be thankful that Harmison persisted. He went onto take 226 Test wickets, playing a key role in England’s unforgettable 2005 Ashes triumph, and reaching the No.1 spot in the ICC’s Test bowling rankings.