England announces its Ashes squad next week. There aren’t many mysteries as far as I’m concerned, but there’s still some dead-enders’ hubbub about Ian Bell, Michael Vaughan and, of course, Steve Harmison, the inscrutable subject of this post.
When he’s not looking homesick and forlong onfield, he’s making cryptic moments about peace and love for batsmen. This is the Durham bowler after he managed to lovetap Ian Bell and Some Other Batman in a domestic match:
“It’s the worst thing in the world when you hit somebody,” he said. “I really don’t like it at all. I s*** myself when I hit Tony Frost. I was upset by that. And the same when I hurt Ian Bell.”
As Patrick Kidd at Line and Length (can’t stop reading it today, sorry) rightly notes, this makes no sense whatsoever:
Oh pull yourself together Harmy. It’s not as if you put them in the hospital. And Frost and Bell made 56 and 79 respectively, they were asking for it. No one wants to see a batsman seriously hurt, but to be upset after rapping an upper-order batter (a helmeted one at that) on the bonce suggests that you didn’t intend to do it. In which case, what was the point of bowling the bouncer?
One of cricket’s more intruiging paradoxes lies in its almost terrifying potential violence. Cricket balls are hard and in the last year, we’ve seen a spate of awful injuries in the game (from Daniel Flynn’s lost tooth to Anil Kumble’s stitched hand). It’s a paradox because this is a game, after all, that prides itself on good cheer and sportsmanship. And yet, there’s the attraction: it’s easy to throw a ball around at someone, but it’s extremely beautiful to watch men develop forms and routines to properly hurl an object upwards of 90 mph at another man without the clear intention of hurting him.
The game fails, then, when a batsman does actually bleed. But that isn’t the bowler’s fault, or even the batsman’s necessarily. This uneasy dalliance with violence separates cricket from American sports like ice hockey and American football, where violence is at the heart of the game’s essence and means. In cricket, violence is turned into good-hearted play: a bowler says he will do everything to get you out; a batsman wears protection and does his best to remain stoic. Wink and a nod; get on with it, mate.
So, cheer up, Harmy. It’s not Iraq we’re talking about. Incidentally, Harmison’s averaging 20 with 31 wickets this season? Surely the English selectors won’t fall for it, will they? Or will we see another leg-side bouncer seal Australia’s fate at Edgbaston? See below (all hail Stephen Fry!):