Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stanford call seals Harmison comeback

Stephen Harmison's transformation from international exile to a key member of all England's cricket teams was confirmed when the fast bowler was included in the squad for the cash-rich clash with Allen Stanford's Superstars in Antigua in November.

As recently as last month the Durham quick, who'd announced his one-day international retirement before the 2007 World Cup, was out of the Test side after being dropped following a poor display in New Zealand earlier this year.

But he starred in the final Test against South Africa at The Oval, where Kevin Pietersen marked the start of his England captaincy with a victory against the land of his birth.

Pietersen then helped persuade Harmison to end his one-day isolation and the bowler responded by leading England's attack in a 4-0 thrashing of the Proteas.

Now the paceman has been included in the 15-man squad for arguably the most lucrative match in the history of cricket, with the winners of the Twenty20 contest at Stanford's own ground in Antigua guaranteed an eye-watering million dollars a man each.

Even the four players who don't make the final XI will, if England win, get to share a million dollars of the Texan-born billionaire's money between them as they become the best-paid drinks waiters in the business.

Ever since he reversed his one-day retirement Harmison, who is also in the squad for the seven one-dayers away to India later in November, has been acutely sensitive to the suggestion he was doing it just for the money.

"Steve Harmison did say he didn't want to play in Stanford early on,"
said England's national selector Geoff Miller after announcing the squad at Lord's here on Tuesday.

"He didn't want to be seen to be coming back into the side just for financial reasons - but we want him to be in it and his results this year in both kinds of cricket show it's the right decision.

"We said 'we'll pick this side on cricketing factors and not on monetary factors'. We took the decision out of his hands and made it for him."

The squad is made up of the unchanged XI which defeated South Africa 4-0 plus original squad members Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara, Graeme Swann and Ryan Sidebottom, subject to the left-arm quick passing a fitness test.

In a separate announcement, former England captain Michael Vaughan was given a 12-month central contract despite the Yorkshire batsman's loss of form.

Vaughan, who led England to Ashes glory in 2005, resigned as Test captain after South Africa clinched their first Test series win in England since 1965 last month and was replaced as skipper by Pietersen.

Vaughan, who sat out the final match of the South Africa series, has struggled for runs this season. His last fifty, for Yorkshire, was followed by scores of two, nought, 21, nought and 17 against South Africa.

A break from cricket did not lead to an upturn in his fortunes when he came back, with the 31-year-old Vaughan, who hasn't featured in one-day internationals since England's lacklustre World Cup campaign in the Caribbean, managing just 10, nought and 19 in his next three innings for his county.

"The award of an England central contract to Michael Vaughan reflects the selectors' view that Michael still has a role to play in the England Test squad over the next 12 months,"
said Miller.

England are due to announce on September 29 their squad for a two Test tour of India in December.

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