India likely to win Southampton Test: Harbhajan
By Chetan Narula
(Eds: rephrasing intro, minor edits throughout)
Nottingham, Aug 23 (PTI) Veteran off-spinner Harbhajan Singh has backed India to win the fourth Test against England in Southampton as he feels the conditions and the pitch are likely to favour the visitors.
India bounced back from consecutive losses to clinch a 203-run win in the third Test in Nottingham to stay alive in the five-match series. The fourth Test is scheduled from August 30.
"After such a performance I back India to win the next Test in Southampton, and then anything can happen in the Oval Test. At the Oval, we could get a true Indian wicket with lot of bounce and the lateral movement is less there as well," Harbhajan told PTI in an interview.
"So, conditions could favour India and we could even play two spinners. I think India have a very good chance (of winning the series 3-2)," he said.
Harbhajan blamed India's first two losses on tough conditions and the time it takes for team to adapt to England.
"At the Lord's, conditions were very bad. England batsmen would have struggled there too, but India had bad luck. The Birmingham match was close. The big difference in this match was that India were able to put runs on the board," he said.
"In such conditions, if you put 350 runs on the board, then India will be in the game. It was about putting your mind into it and how you can put those runs on the board," he added.
Harbhajan said England's batting line-up looks weak and vulnerable to both pace and spin bowling.
"The English batting line-up looks more problematic than the Indian batting at the moment. They are playing as if they are touring India, and not the other way round," Harbhajan opined.
"Their batting line-up is more vulnerable to both pace and spin, and they look weak. Some of their first-choice batsmen have an ordinary record in domestic cricket, averaging 30-35 at best.
"In India, you have to average over 50 to be even considered. They have good depth in ODI cricket but in Tests, their batting has not done much," he added.
Harbhajan feels the Indian team copped a lot of unnecessary flak after going down 0-2, but now at 1-2, the series is wide open.
"It is not easy to come and play in England. You cannot say that previous Indian teams did better here. Apart from 2007, when did we last win a series in England? We tend to over-react easily and criticise too early," he said.
"It takes time to get used to conditions in England. You can practice as much as you want but match conditions are different from nets. The Birmingham Test was so close, and if India had won there narrowly (instead of losing), we wouldn't have had so much criticism and the series would currently be 2-1 to India instead."
Harbhajan, who has taken 417 wickets in 103 Tests, feels India were unlucky in Lord's as their batting faltered in a match affected by rain.
Praising the Indian bowling attack, Harbhajan said, "Once you put runs on the board, you can see the difference. In one spell, Hardik Pandya changed the game, which is a great thing from India's point of view.
"India has a great bowling attack now, which they didn't earlier. We had only Zaheer Khan and someone else trying to chip in, but now we have three good bowlers and now we also have a fourth in Pandya.
"In this match, he was matching up in terms of swing and pace to all other three pacers. It's a blessing to have three-four proper pacers in the playing eleven, which has never happened before in the history of Indian cricket that I have played in, or seen