Finally, team India is back. After a welcome break of a month and a half after the IPL, the Indian team for the tour of Sri Lanka was announced.
With MS Dhoni at the helm, and Virat Kohli as his deputy, the team has no surprises. As expected, Sachin Tendulkar opted out and Zaheer Khan, along with Virender Sehwag, made their way in. Ravindra Jadeja and Praveen Kumar got the axe while Pragyan Ojha and Umesh Yadav made the cut. R. Ashwin, Vinay Kumar and Rahul Sharma clung on to their places while Ashok Dinda made it back after an impressive India A tour to the West Indies.
However, this isn’t about the Indian team to Lanka but about an Indian player who isn’t going to Sri Lanka – Harbhajan Singh.
The feisty off-spinner from India has been out of favor with the Indian selectors for some time now. After a stomach injury that sidelined him, the Sardar from Jalandhar has found it extremely difficult to muscle his way into the Indian national team. The lack of wickets and the meteoric rise of R. Ashwin haven’t helped matters either.
What went wrong with the most successful off spinner for India?
Harbhajan Singh has always been an enigma, whether with his on field achievements or his off field antics. As far as the stats stack up, with 406 Test wickets and 259 ODI scalps, Harbhajan is right behind Anil Kumble and Kapil Dev. But even then, he hasn’t quite etched his greatness in the pages of Indian cricket history.
Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh together, made the most formidable spin twins in the early-2000 era. Those were the best years for the spinner from Punjab, and he even earned the nickname “The Turbanator”. He tormented the Aussies, especially, and ripped apart oppositions.
In the historic Kolkata test, where the Aussie juggernaut came to a grinding halt, Harbhajan’s haul of 13 wickets was as much responsible for it as VVS Laxman’s epic innings. Under the reign of Saurav Ganguly, there were even times when Harbhajan Singh was preferred to Anil Kumble.
But after Anil Kumble’s retirement, Harbhajan Singh’s curve took a massive nosedive. Not only did the wickets dry up, but along with them, the ever attacking attitude gave way to questionable behavior. The guile was gone, the line shifted to middle and leg, and the doosra was overused. The sudden increase in pace, and the flatter trajectory displayed a defensive mindset and lack of confidence. Now one can blame the Captain MS Dhoni and his ultra defensive tactics in the longer format of the game, but with the class and skill of Harbhajan Singh, wickets shouldn’t have been a problem.
However, the woes continued. The Vijay Hazare trophy drew a blank, and even the IPL and the captaincy of the Mumbai franchise couldn’t bring out the best of him. He didn’t bowl his full quota in most games, and when he did, the opposition took him to the cleaners. So slowly but surely, it was time that he was given the cold shoulder.
Though Harbhajan has played over a decade of International cricket, he has always needed a mentor to guide him. He came into emminence under the captaincy of Ganguly, who supported him irrespective of his off field adventures, and bowling in tandem with Kumble definitely made him more potent.
But with a group where he has to take up the mantle as a senior bowler, he has lost his bearings. His venting of frustrations made the headlines during the IPL, and he and his team-mates got into ugly fights with the oppositions. Even the umpires bore the wrath at times. Mumbai Indians, as expected, finished at the bottom of the Fair Play table, and that raised a few more questions about the temperamental offie’s attitude.
The signing with Essex, however, shows that he’s ready to fight it out. County cricket presents a different challenge for every cricketer, and for a spinner, it just escalates to a higher order. The conditions are different, the pitches aren’t helpful, the weather is torrid, and to top it off, Duke and Kookaburra balls are in play.
A life in county cricket demands a player to adapt, and there is always pressure to deliver as a foreign recruit. It takes maturity and a level-head to succeed in the county circuit, and at 32, we certainly hope that Harbhajan has finally attained it. County cricket demands high levels of fitness and, as an international star, he might need to carry the bowling on his shoulders. There would hardly be anyone to guide him; so as a pro, it’s every man for himself out there.
Barring these difficulties, it should be a blessing for Harbhajan because he is mainly a rhythm bowler, and a lot of overs under the belt might help him find his lost rhythm. Also, the players in the county circuit aren’t the best against the turning cherry, so a few early wickets can get the lost confidence back along with the guile, the loop and the mystery.
However, making a comeback is always tough, but then again, spinners always mature into better bowlers in their thirties. So all is not yet lost for the Turbanator.
Yes, people are writing him off, the conditions are tough, the rhythm isn’t there, Ashwin can only get better; but that’s what we love cricket for – there’s always a fairy tale attached to a great player.
For Harbhajan Singh, this might well be an opportunity to write his comeback script, because the Indian fans are waiting for the Turbanator’s doosra innings!