Harbhajan Singh: "Have I made it large?"
Last week, the whole nation was criticizing Vijay Mallya’s UB for the controversial advertisement in which Mahendra Singh Dhoni was shown mocking at Harbhajan Singh and asking “Have you made it large?”. Mallya finally had to take back the ad amidst huge protest form fans and media which allegedly showed friction in the Indian team.
Now a week after the controversy, India have been completely outplayed by the English team in the 1st test at Lord’s. At this moment, I feel like asking Bhajji the question – “Have you made it large?” At a time when India’s spearhead Zaheer Khan got injured, it was natural that Harbhajan, as the second most experienced bowler in the team, had to step up and take the mantle of leading the Indian bowling attack. But he failed miserably, ending up with just one wicket from the test match.
After Anil Kumble‘s retirement in 2008, the responsibility of the Indian spin department fell to the Turbanator. Three years down the line, let’s analyse how he has fared post Kumble’s departure and whether he actually has made it large!
Test Performance (2009- now)
In 23 tests he has played during the period, Bhajji has managed to pick up 91 wickets with only three five wickets hauls. The most worrying part about his bowling in this period is his awful strike rate: last year it was 85.3, this year it is 77. That means an average 13-14 overs per wicket, which is too bad for a spinner of his caliber. The average runs per wicket is not any good, hovering around late 30’s, which is way off what is expected of the country’s leading spinner.
The strange part about his performance is in the 13 tests played in the Indian sub-continent is that he has managed just 48 wickets, less than 4 wickets per match. Considering the fact the sub-continent pitches offer great assistance to spin bowling, it amazes me as to how Bhajji has performed better outside the sub-continent. The answer to this is pretty simple: The major chunk of his wickets i.e. 16 from 3 test matches were against an instable New Zealand line up in 2008-09, the lineup had many players making their debuts and spin was something alien to them. The fact that he managed only 2 wickets in two tests against Sri Lanka in 2010 is a clear indication of his spinning abilities going down the drain in recent times.
Comparison with Graeme Swann:
At a time when Harbhajan’s bowling has been going down, the attention of the cricketing world has been caught by the rise of a new-comer. In the same period considered for Harbhjan, Graeme Swann has taken 134 wickets in 31 tests, an extremely impressive haul. The fact that Swann had 10 five wicket hauls and even a 10 wicket haul in a test, clearly shows his match winning abilities. Against South Africa, Swann was awarded back to back MoM’s in the first two tests for his magic with the ball. Ironically in the last five years, Harbhajan Singh has managed only a single Man of the Match award , that too for his heroics with the bat against New Zealand earlier this year.
Swann is a classic case of a typical off-spinner who doesn’t fear to flight the ball. He generates a lot of drift because of his height and has enjoyed great success against left-handers. Unlike Harbhajan he doesn’t have a doosra in his armor, but he still foxes batsmen. On the other hand, Bhajji tries to contain batsmen rather than looking for wicket taking deliveries. The batsman thus happily negotiates the spin, sometimes even attacks him.
Time to mend ways soon:
For over the years Harbhajan has bowled in tandem with Kumble, the discipline at the other end often benefited him with wickets. But he needs to quickly learn that he is the current spearhead of the Indian spin department and thus needs to be more attack-minded. In his defence, his supporters would argue that his batting has improved significantly in the last year. However one needs to understand the fact his primary job is to take wickets. Given the vast experience and great talent that he has, it shouldn’t be such a problem for Harbhajan to adapt to new changes.