By Syed Khalid Mahmood
Harbhajan Singh has a knack of coming good in tough conditions. He may not the greatest off-spinner on the planet but he is the kind of bowler who can turn the tide of the matches as he did two times in the just concluded series against Australia which India won 2-0.
Consistency has eluded him during the last few years but he still remains a champion bowler who could rattle the best of batsmen. Ask Ricky Ponting, the most prolific batsmen of the recent times. The Australian captain has dominated all kind of bowling but it has been a different story altogether whenever he has been up against Harbhajan.
It was not at all surprising to note that Ponting became Harbhajan’s wicket number 300 in Test match cricket. The master off-spinner foxed the Aussie skipper in the first innings of the fourth and final Test at the VCA Stadium, Nagpur to reach the landmark.
Harbhajan had to wait much longer for his 300th scalp. He was on course of doing it on the fourth afternoon of the second Test at the PCA Stadium, Mohali. It was his terrific spell that had broken the back of the Australian top-order and he looked good for many more after striking three early blows.
As the luck would have it he couldn’t get any more success in the Australian innings as the remaining seven wickets were shared by Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan and Amit Mishra. India won the match a record margin of 320 runs and Harbhajan remained stranded at 299 wickets.
There was a big gap between the second and third Tests. But it was not enough to let the off-spinner recover from an injury and he had to sit out of the Delhi Test that ended in a tame draw in the end.
Harbhajan returned to the side in the fourth Test and it was on the third afternoon when he finally took his 300th wicket. It took him weeks to move from 299 to 300.
What next Harbhajan? With the great leg-spinner Anil Kumble having retired from international cricket, now Harbhajan becomes the number one spin bowler for his country in all forms of the game. He had to be sidelined in overseas Tests on numerous occasions when India had to take the field with just one spinner.
The scenario has now been changed. With him becoming the front-line spinner there will be more opportunities for him on foreign tours now. He would be the obvious choice to make the final eleven when his team is not in a position to afford the luxury of two specialist spinners.
Harbhajan, however, will face challenge from the promising youngsters like Piyush Chawla and Amit Mishra. He may be richer in experience but he will need to perform consistently to retain his status of being the number one spinner of the country.
There is no doubt about the talents of the off-spinner but he has been found wanting at times whenever he has not broken through early. He becomes much more lethal and destructive after picking up wickets early in spells. But he has been observed compromising on accuracy when he’s no rewarded. That’s an area he needs to work on. His shoulders should not drop even when he is being taken for runs or even there is no success for his hard work.
Despite controversies surrounding his action, he remains one of the best off-spinners in the business. He is match-winner in the truest sense of the word. In fact he has proved himself a worthy team man who relishes the challenge.
He takes his batting very seriously and can do serious damage to the opposing bowlers. He is a handy batsman to have at number eight. Four of his six Test half-centuries have come against Australia and it seems a matter of time when he would be a centurion as well.
November 11, 2008