Harbhajan Singh: A Falling Legend?
As is so often said about Test cricket, you have to take 20 wickets to win a match. In any given Indian Test side, the success never depended upon the batsman may what have been the caliber of its batting line-up. Traditionally the burden has been borne by spin bowlers. Extending the logic of that argument to the current side, we will find a greater percentage of wickets being bagged by fast bowlers.
Ishant Sharma took 22 wickets in the just concluded series against the West Indies and was deservedly the man of the series. Not very long ago, S. Sreesanth had worked wonders for the same said reward in South Africa. The gradual transition can be attributed to multiple reasons. Firstly, pace-friendly wickets are being produced all over the world in context of the crisis that the longer version of the game is facing. Secondly. the quality of spin bowling on display is miserable. The void left by greats such as Anil Kumble, Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan in World Cricket is not to be filled soon. In India’s immediate context, Harbhajan Singh has gone through a barren year.
Throughout the last decade, beginning with the auspicious triumph over Australia in 2001 India relied on Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. The duo took India to several victories at home and played a crucial role in the matches that were played abroad. Anil Kumble decided to hang his boots after a successful campaign as India’s captain and the burden has now fallen upon Harbhajan Singh.
Singh is a quality spinner and joined the 400 wicket club in the last Test match played against the West Indies. In his repertoire are a fair number of variations that have made him one of the best in the current time. However, many critics believe that there has been a decline in his wicket-taking abilities.
A major portion of the International cricket being played these days is constituted by the shorter formats of the game. T-20 and ODI’s have made use of spinners as economy bowlers and Harbhajan Singh can be an appropriate case in study. He has the extra burden of IPL cricket to bear as well. However, Graeme Swann has shown how to benefit from the very same seemingly hostile set of circumstances. Swann does not boast of a good economy but he picks up wickets in massive numbers.
This raises an important question regarding the relationship a bowler shares with a captain. This can be extended to include the larger role assigned to him by the team management. A bowler has natural instincts that make him a wicket-taking bowler or an economy bowler just as a batsman might be defensive or a stroke-maker. In modern day cricket, Daniel Vettori epitomizes the economy bowler. He has the ability to strangle any opposition into submission. The team strategy accommodates him in that manner and that is a role defined for him. But is Harbhajan an economy bowler?
It can be safely said that “the Turbanator” started out as a wicket-taker. He enthralled critics when he bowled to Australian batsman in India and one can recollect the hat-trick he took at Eden Gardens. To the day we know ricky Ponting as his bunny so it would be tame and dishonest to tag him as an economy bowler. He has been on the wrong side of the changes that have occurred in World cricket due to a lack of adaptability.
After securing his name in the history books among the greats, Harbhajan Singh provided an insight into the process of spin bowling. “Classical spinners operated in eras when batsmen were not scooping, slogging or reverse sweeping. Today, hitting over the top is a norm. Bats are so much meatier. Teams don’t make 200 runs in a day any longer. Another factor no longer remembered is that visiting batsmen are not afraid of spin in the sub-continent. They travel so much to our part of the world, be it as a member of the A teams; the ever-increasing number of series; the exposure in IPL. They are getting better at handling spin all the time,” Harbhajan said.
His lack of form has not diminished his role or status in the Indian contingent but with increasing competition, he may not be guaranteed the same for the future. India has very potent bench strength in the spin department with the likes of Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha. Moreover, the day and age is gone when an Indian side consistently played with two spinners. The part-time bowlers with (let’s admit) limited abilities partake of the sacred role that a spinner has in test cricket. There have been some able part-timers in the Indian side especially like Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar.
With the continuous dilution of art in every sphere of cricket, one can hope that a potential legend of the game is not wasted in this turmoil. Harbhajan Singh’s tour to England will be crucial in this respect as he will explore his own art in testing conditions. We that the stern test does him good.