Chris Waters: Fading force Harmison best remembered for Ashes heroics

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WELL, it didn’t quite work out, did it?

Yorkshire’s decision to sign Steve Harmison on a month’s loan from Durham was not exactly a roaring success.

Harmison captured eight wickets in three County Championship games at a respectable average of 24.37.

However, the majority of those wickets were the product of poor shots, while the former England paceman sent down 18 wides and 11 no-balls in his 42 overs for the White Rose.

Harmison, whose loan was cut short by a side injury sustained during the dying throes of the Championship match against Leicestershire at Grace Road, is not expected to return to Headingley.

There had been talk of extending the loan period, which would surely have been a seriously misguided course of action.

If the decision to recruit Harmison in the first place was flawed (and, in fairness to Yorkshire, they could have not have predicted he would bowl so badly), then any move to bring him back would have been doubly so.

Indeed, in 13 seasons of covering county cricket, I cannot recall having watched a bowler struggle so markedly for rhythm as did Harmison on the opening day of the game at Grace Road, where he was even jeered by sections of the crowd.

The purpose of this column, however, is neither to criticise Harmison nor Yorkshire.

Rather, it is to express sympathy for a man who, at his peak, was one of England’s finest bowlers of modern times.

Whenever I think of Harmison I think of Jamaica 2004, when he ripped through the West Indies’ batting to take 7-12.

I think of that year’s summer Test matches against West Indies and New Zealand, when he plundered wickets for fun to justify his rise to No 1 in the world Test rankings.

And I think of the 2005 Ashes, which he started by striking Justin Langer on the helmet to set the tone for a summer of English dominance. Those were the moments when Harmison flourished, when he fired the imagination of the watching public and showcased the skills of the fast bowler’s trade.

Harmison, who turns 34 in October, reminded me last week of an ageing rock singer who can no longer hit the high notes of yore.

Sir Paul McCartney gave a classic example of this with his performance at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.

McCartney is 70 years old – an age when carpet slippers and rocking chairs are naturally the norm.

The former Beatle was a shadow of his former self, and the classic Hey Jude can rarely have sounded so bad.

Harmison’s performance against Leicestershire was so off-key that one could only feel sympathy with the former England hero.

I wanted to get out of my chair in the press box, walk out on to the pitch and put a consoling arm around his shoulder and say: “We’re all thinking of you, old chap.”

Harmison is a sensitive character at the best of times and has had much-publicised struggles with home-sickness and depression.

Last week, you could literally feel his pain and anguish, and there is nowhere to hide in the very public arena of professional sport.

Only Harmison will know what his future holds, but I do not want to remember him for what I witnessed in the Division Two game at Grace Road.

Nor do I want to dwell on that infamous delivery with which he began the 2006-07 Ashes series, a ball so wide it ended in the hands of second slip.

Rather, I want to remember Harmison for what he could do in his greatest days.

And his greatest days, on the evidence of his short time on loan with Yorkshire, are now sadly behind him.