When Gloucestershire signed an unheralded all-rounder from Wonthaggi to replace the legendary West Indian fast bowler Courtney Walsh as their overseas player in early 1999, observers of county cricket were all but ready to put the final nail into the unfashionable West Country team’s chances of success. Nevertheless, the brash Kiwi coach John Bracewell felt that Gloucestershire were hiding behind Walsh’s successes and sought out an individual who would complement the team rather than dominate it. Bracewell had first come across Ian Harvey in the mid-1990s at the Australian Institute of Sport and was impressed by his resourceful bowling. He hunted out the opinion of the great Australian Test batsman Allan Border and he confirmed that both Harvey’s positive outlook and high level of ability would be desirable attributes. The club’s mind was made up instantly. Time would prove it to be a masterstroke as the unassuming Harvey not only became the talisman of a Gloucestershire side about to enter its most victorious era but also began to transform the attitudes of his team mates, just as Bracewell had wanted his overseas player to do.
Few batsmen have the capacity to incite the same level of excitement that proceeded Harvey’s walk to the wicket whenever he was representing Gloucestershire. Whatever the situation, whoever the rivals, the crowd knew Harvey’s response was only going to be a belligerent counterattack with an extensive assortment of shots all around the wicket that left bowlers utterly deflated. As the legend goes, individuals who live by the sword also die from it and it was his attacking style of batting that often prompted Harvey’s dismissal, leaving behind a trail of destruction and a series of frustrated looks on the faces of the club’s supporters who were eager to witness more. Harvey constantly appeared to relish encounters with the oppositions’ opening bowlers, especially when Gloucestershire promoted him up the order in one-day cricket to magnificent effect. He may not have been quite as comfortable against slower bowling though the way he played England Test spinners Ashley Giles and Gareth Batty with total disdain in differing Lord’s cup finals proved this was not as immense a weakness as originally claimed. When the mood took him, it required merely a brief sojourn at the crease for Harvey to turn a contest on its head.
As befits a man who grew up amongst such contemporaries as Steve Waugh and Simon O’Donnell, Harvey moulded himself into a bowler of inestimable trickery capable of thriving under pressure at the close of a limited-over innings. As a match report in The Times in September 2003 stated, “If you needed someone to bowl the last over for your life, you would surely choose Ian Harvey.” Considering his teenage years were spent keeping wicket, his rise to become an integral part of Australia’s World Cup winning bowling attack in 2003 proved to be quite a success story for a boy from the Victorian bush. From his first appearance in Gloucestershire colours Harvey’s esteemed slower ball deceived many an established batsman and his aptitude to seemingly bowl a yorker at will ensured his calling card as a strike bowler. His versatility refused to end there though as his ability to swing the ball both ways unsurprisingly allowed Harvey to launch an assault with the new ball. Harvey’s attacking style routinely provided the perfect balance in a prolific collaboration with the miserly left-arm opening bowler Mike Smith.
Early on in his Victorian career, Harvey’s team mate Shane Warne dubbed him the ‘Freak’, citing his gift of providing a moment of magic in the field. Despite his often languid appearance, Harvey had the much-appreciated inclination to seize upon any chance offered to him by an opposition batsman. His relaxed exterior concealed an athleticism that caught many an adversary unaware. His close catching to the spinners had a tendency to border on the breathtaking whilst the sight of his naturally safe pair of hands in the outfield managed to calm the nerves of any spectator as they anxiously watched the ball flying through the air.
When Ian Harvey announced in September 2003 that he was to leave Gloucestershire in search of a fresh challenge, there was none of the wailing that accompanied Courtney Walsh’s departure five years previously. Instead the county’s supporters seemed stunned into silence, thankful for Harvey’s immense contribution but at the same time wishing it did not have to end. Outgoing coach John Bracewell, about to become coach of New Zealand, said that Harvey’s biggest input to the club was a “legacy of optimism and innovation.” Back in late 1998, Bracewell identified one-day cricket as the area Gloucestershire should target in order to develop a culture of success before moving on to the four-day format. He found the perfect cricketer in Harvey who was able to help lift the county’s performances into another dimension and there is no doubting his achievements in limited-overs cricket for Gloucestershire. At the club’s home ground in Bristol in what was to prove his last ever appearance in that particular format of the game, Harvey’s last scoring shot was a gigantic six that soared over deep mid-wicket and his last delivery was a yorker that hit the base of off-stump and ensured victory for his side. In those two incidents, Ian Harvey managed sum up exactly how he will be remembered by all that saw him play cricket for Gloucestershire.
(Article: Copyright © 2004 Dan Hudson)