THERE comes a moment in the career of a veteran rock band when they struggle to perform to the standard of old.
The singer can no longer reach the high notes of yore, while the drummer is liable to play out of time.
As it is with musicians, so it is with sportsmen.
Steve Harmison was a brilliant bowler for England in his heyday but, on the evidence of yesterday’s performance, a magnificent career is on the way down.
As Leicestershire made 318-9 after winning the toss, Harmison’s figures of 16-1-69-2 told only half the story.
There were four no balls, seven wides and any number of deliveries which, in one-day cricket, would have been classed as wides.
One felt sympathy for a man who turns 34 in October, and there was pathos each time umpires Rob Bailey and Ian Gould signalled the reality of Harmison’s waywardness.
There was food for thought, too, for a Yorkshire hierarchy who have pace bowlers Rich Pyrah and Iain Wardlaw up their sleeve, champing at the bit to get a game.
It is important to stress that there was no lack of effort or commitment from Harmison.
On the contrary, he has exuded those qualities since signing on a month’s loan from Durham after the calf injury sustained by Ryan Sidebottom.
And, in one transitory if telling moment yesterday, he showed exactly why Yorkshire recruited him in the first place.
With Leicestershire 59-2 midway through the morning session, Harmison produced a magnificent yorker which splayed the stumps of Ramnaresh Sarwan, the equivalent of a mature crooner suddenly rediscovering the ability to hit a top C.
Sadly, however, it proved the exception.
Some may dismiss his travails as a lack of game-time; others may incline to a different view.
Particularly poignant was the well-intentioned applause of the Yorkshire fielders when Harmison occasionally located a good line and length; this Yorkshire side is a close-knit bunch and they clearly felt poor Harmison’s pain.
While Harmison floundered, Steve Patterson flourished. The 28-year-old pace bowler was the only one who offered consistent control.
Moin Ashraf bowled well at times and not as well at others, while Azeem Rafiq and Anthony McGrath wheeled away diligently.
But Patterson was a cut above the rest, his figures of 3-54 from 24 overs an impressive effort on a docile pitch. Although Yorkshire were not at their best collectively, they will still be relatively pleased with the state of the game.
Leicestershire’s total was not imposing on a day when the sun beat down in this soggiest of summers.
Several players made a present of their wicket as befitted a team who are bottom of the Championship.
Only Matthew Boyce played the requisite hand, his unbeaten 106 following on from a century at Scarborough in May.
It was Patterson, predictably, who got the ball rolling.
After Greg Smith scored the first 20 runs, Patterson pinned him lbw before inflicting the same fate on Ned Eckersley.
Then came Harmison’s dismissal of Sarwan that was a throwback to the bowler’s halcyon days.
Michael Thornely was fourth out on the stroke of lunch, edging a delivery from Ashraf to wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow that he did not need to play.
Thornely scored 31 in 119 minutes having taken 40 minutes to get off the mark, a sequence broken with three successive fours off Ashraf, who himself delivered six no-balls.
The afternoon session was frustrating for Yorkshire. Only one wicket fell as Leicestershire advanced from 98-4 to 204-5.
It should have been two wickets but Adam Lyth, most uncharacteristically, dropped Boyce on 26 at second slip off Patterson, which would have left the home team 131-5. As it was, Boyce and 18-year-old Shiv Thakor, playing only his fourth first-class match, added 68 in 23 overs before Thakor lazily drove a half-volley from Ashraf into Gale’s hands at cover.
Wayne White threw it away even more glaringly when he slogged Rafiq to mid-on, ending a sixth-wicket stand of 60 in 23 overs with Boyce, having earlier mis-hit the off-spinner for a six.
Harmison claimed his second wicket when Paul Dixey clipped a rank leg-side delivery to square-leg and Patterson his third when Claude Henderson drove fiercely to Root at cover.
Patterson should have had a fourth wicket but Bairstow, also uncharacteristically, grassed a chance when Boyce, on 94, edged to his left.
Boyce faced 224 deliveries and hit 13 fours on a day when there were 47 extras.