Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Someone who has played 98 tests and has 406 wickets in the kitty can never be termed as ordinary. Yet underperformance of HARBHAJAN SINGH today remains a mystery, an enigma. It was not long back that he was among the top bowlers of cricket. However the performance over a year or two is very embarrassing for his profile. He can be too good when good but have stooped too awful when low.

Harbhajan, ever since he made his debut as a teenager had controversies running alongside him. His action was under scrutiny and found himself out of favours. Destiny had a different tale to tell. When Australia toured India in 2001, little did the world expect the young sardar to become a hit! He did so in some style. Right from becoming India’s first bowler to take an hatrick to claiming 32 wickets in the series, Harbhajan became an instant hit in cricketing circles. He soon found bowling with senior partner Anil Kumble quite easy. They formed a highly successful duo for Indian team and went a long way in taking India to the top side. In home pitches, they hunted the opposition in pair.             

Can Bhajji recapture the lost magic?
Harbhajan enjoyed some of his spectacular periods in the middle part of the decade, enjoying the pressure created by the legend Kumble at the other end. His bowling blossomed under the watchful guidance and he soon was among the top spinners of cricket behind the trinity of spin. He even managed to outshine Kumble in limited overs format and was first choice spinner in ODIs.

Controversies though continued to hamper him. The Moneygate or Sydneygate affair in early 2008 tested his endurance. The Team backed him strongly and his long time friend and partner, Kumble being the skipper helped him. Some muscle flexing by BCCI and evidence in support of Harbhajan by Tendulkar helped Harbhajan cross the bridge. He managed to come out of it with the support of seniors. But another slapgate in IPL, where he ended up supposedly slapping Sreesanth did not do his reputation any good. 

The crunchy time came with the retirement of Kumble in late 2008, wherein Harbhajan became the leading spinner in the team. He had by then 300 plus wickets. But his returns started dwindling ever since. The doosra he developed became his overused weapon and he started losing his zing. His offbreaks started deserting him and he has not been a force as he used too. However, his batting improved leaps and bounds that he ended up with two consecutive centuries against Newzeland, each time saving his side. The reluctance of selectors to drop him and lack of competition meant he held up his place in the squad more by the virtue of reputation than the performance.

Performances to ponder like a seven for in Capetown or a five for at Hamilton or the match winning spell at Galle and Eden came as once a blue moon rather than a regular effort by the leading spinner of the then No 1 ranked side. More worrying was his ability to take wickets at home that made him a reduced force. His form hit an all time low after the World Cup where he ended up with pretty ordinary returns in both ODIs and Tests in West Indies tour and a poor bowling returns in the two tests at England. He did manage to break down the 400 wickets club in West Indies and is still the highest wicket taker among the current bowlers. But by then he was a spent force.

An injury forced him out of the squad. He came back with leading his franchise Mumbai Indians to the title in Champions League in the absence of their regular skipper Tendulkar. Ashwin’s stock rose meanwhile with useful performance in England and West Indies ODIs and he soon piped Hrbhajan who was holding his place in the side more on the name, form the test squad for West Indies. A match winning debut haul and few reasonably good performances so far from the Chennai lad makes Harbhajan’s comeback a less likely event. Harbhajan promptly returned to Domestic league but has failed a big way in making any impact. A poor return of 2 wickets in 3 matches for his state team Punjab makes his case bleak. Unless something dramatic happens, his career with Indian team is at stake right now. 

Will he continue to be a spent force?
Even in ODIs he has became a far more economical bowler than the attacking option. He has been more concerned on stemming the run flow rather than to take wickets. With India playing sole spinner in ODIs these days his form was an Achilles heel for the side that lacked genuine match winning bowlers in ODIs. In the successful World Cup campaign where spinners like Afridi and Tahir made an impact for their side, Yuvraj Singh with his part time spin was India’s stand out spinner rather than his team mate Harbhajan.

The issues bogging him down are as much mental as cricketing. His form has deserted him with the ball. He no more commands the respect of the opposition that he used to in earlier times. Lack of proper partner in the other end seems to have hit his bowling rather astoundingly. In the recent times, Harbhajan’s reluctance to use the doosra due to the clout on his suspect action has made him predictable. The controversies, his attitude are not taking him anywhere. He needs a complete rehaul of his basics and work his place back to the side. An experienced campaigner like him is not easy to be left out but the selectors had no option with the non performer.

Like the legend EAS Prasanna rightly put it down “He is delivering from a very chest-on position, consequently, his length has suffered. He has got his length right only 25 to 30% of the time. If your length is awry, your line is affected as well. The fact that his basics are not strong, he does not pivot or get his body behind his action, is not helping matters either. There is very little follow-through”, it is high time he revamps his skills and takes immediate steps to get back his bowling in right track. Else he could end up his test career with just 406 wickets. If he cannot make a comeback like Sehwag, Zaheer, Ganguly or Yuvraj Singh made, he will remain “An Enigma” in Indian cricket.

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