Harmison recovers his wicket-taking ability

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Steve Harmison claimed his 100th Test wicket on Friday as the West Indies were bowled out for 152 and were staggering towards a whitewash. Following on, the shell-shocked tourists finished the second day of the fourth Test still 234 runs behind England.

It was an incredible day and the zenith of England's glorious achievements in the past eight months.

Harmison set their bandwagon rolling in the Caribbean and enhanced his figures against New Zealand but in his second encounter with the West Indies appeared to have lost his wicket-taking ability.

All those fears were forgotten on Friday when he took six wickets for 46 in the first innings. Harmison then snatched the first two wickets in the second innings and will probably be among the wickets again on Saturday when the match should be wrapped up, giving England a 4-0 whitewash in this series and a 7-0 clean sweep in the summer.

Harmison was backed up by some of the sharpest catching England have produced, not least of all from debutant Ian Bell, who clung on to a startling chance in the gully off Ramnaresh Sarwan in the second innings that was only bettered by a stunning one-handed effort by Robert Key off Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the first.

Harmison's superb day began with a top Test innings of 36 that included three sixes as England's tail added 150 runs, even though Andrew Flintoff and Geraint Jones failed to add to their scores and were dismissed early in the day.

This was yet another example of the increasing confidence in England's cricket. On Friday the lower middle order failed, but the tail stepped in to fill the gap and built a substantial total while also draining the West Indians of the last vestiges of enthusiasm for the series.

Ashley Giles's third Test fifty and a stand of 87 with Matthew Hoggard helped England to 470 but the team can hardly have expected the reaction that came from West Indies. Their bowling had already been humiliated but their batting then capitulated, with only Brian Lara's hectic 79, the highest score of the match so far, giving their first innings total any substance at all.

Lara's innings consisted of an exhibition of his finest shots and 14 sparkling boundaries yet it failed to inspire any batsman in his tired, dishevelled team.

No other batsman made more than 16 and they proved totally inadequate as Harmison steamed in with a succession of short-pitched balls followed up with fearsome wicket-taking deliveries. “I just stuck to the plan,” he said afterwards.

Even as Harmison reeled off 13 overs with his economical action, you had to admire the skills of Lara. He came to the wicket to be immediately faced by Flintoff who has torn him away from the crease in three of the last four innings.

You could see that Flintoff was in his element, tearing in with a fiendish scowl and turning up the speed to close to 90 miles an hour. His first ball to Lara beat him completely, the second would have been an lbw if umpire Darrell Hair had been less of an umpire and there were half a dozen times when Flintoff appeared to have the better of the duel.

Chris Gayle showed what could be accomplished with 50 off 36 balls which included six fours from a Hoggard over. The thought of Gayle's force and Lara's brilliance suggests that the match is not settled yet but for England there is no doubt that a whitewash is the only colour in town.

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