India in Australia 2011-12 November 25, 2011

Will the selectors gamble on Harbhajan?

Harbhajan Singh has done little in the Ranji Trophy to warrant a recall, but will the selectors still opt for his experience in Australia?

Logic would say that if you go by the India squad selected for the first three ODIs against West Indies, announced on Friday by the national selectors, the chances of Harbhajan Singh being picked for the Tests in Australia can be easily cast aside. Then again, selection is based on more than just logic.

Harbhajan, who was excluded from the home ODIs against England and the Tests against West Indies, had a chance to find form while leading Punjab in the Ranji Trophy. However, just two wickets in three matches, at an astronomical average of 102.00, does not befit India's current highest wicket-taker in Tests, who has been struggling for form since the England tour.

In England, Harbhajan played in the first two Tests and took just two wickets, albeit in non-spinner friendly conditions where even Graeme Swann found it hard to strike consistently. Critics openly voiced a concern about why the selectors were ignoring his lack of form, thereby delaying the entry of R Ashwin into the longer form, especially after Ashwin had shown the character and the boldness with the ball to attack the batsmen in the shorter formats.

An abdominal muscle strain forced Harbhajan to return home early from England. He returned to fitness a month later to lead Mumbai Indians to the Champions League Twenty20 title. However, according to an Indian board official, he was tired.

It is not that Harbhajan is devoid of supporters. Ravi Shastri, former India player-turned-television commentator, has been a leading voice, saying that India need him for his ability to "get under the skin" of the Australia players and his experience of touring the country. For the record, on India's last tour to Australia, in 2007-08, Harbhajan had a tally of eight wickets in three Tests at 61.25. He conceded over 100 runs in an innings three times in that series.

Australia has not exactly been a favourite hunting ground for offspinners, as Swann, the No. 1 spinner in Tests according to the ICC rankings, found out during the last Ashes when he bagged 15 wickets at 39.80 runs apiece, seven of which came in Adelaide.

"You cannot make a selection on an emotional basis," a board source said. The Kris Srikkanth-led selection panel's recent decisions have shown they are willing to dare. The inclusion of Varun Aaron and Rahul Sharma, two players without strong domestic records, are prime examples. The message is clear: one has to perform and reputations do not matter.

Previous tours of Australia have proven fruitful for India players whose careers were thought to be on the wane. Harbhajan's senior partner, Anil Kumble, turned his career around in 2003-04, while Virender Sehwag enjoyed a revival on the next tour, in 2007-08. His inclusion towards the latter half of the tour, from the Perth Test, changed the team's and his own fortunes.

Most of the XV selected for the ongoing Mumbai Test are likely to go to Australia. Rahul Sharma may make way for a five-man pace attack. Zaheer Khan's selection will be provisional, subject to him proving his fitness in Mumbai's Ranji Trophy matches against Orissa (starting November 29) and Saurashtra (December 6). Praveen Kumar, who was excluded for the home Tests against West Indies, is likely to return to join Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron in the pace department.

One of Wriddhiman Saha and Parthiv Patel could be picked as the second wicketkeeper. In England, Saha was MS Dhoni's back-up for the Test series while Parthiv played in the one-dayers.

Probable squad: MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Virender Sehwag (vice-capt), Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma/Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha/Parthiv Patel (wk), R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron. In case of 17: Harbhajan Singh

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Munawar on November 27, 2011, 8:41 GMT

    How come Gambhir is getting the nod again and again when his average in last 2 years has been 32 runs per innings and he hasn't scored a century in his last 34 innings which is almost 12 Test matches and three series. Unthinkable it is...absolutely. Gambhir's weakness against short pitch stuff and rising delivery outside off stump on bouncy tracks is almost written in stone by now. When lesser mortals - Rampaul, Sammy, Edwards could sort him out what will Siddle, Cumins, Johnson do to him.His fitness is also a questionable these days. But still he gets the nod for Australia tour. Ridiculous, isn't it.On such an important tour, they leave third specialist opener slot vacant for guys like Rahane or Rohit.We can only imagine their fate against swinging cherry on fast bouncy tracks-Perth, Melbourn,etc.By excluding Jaffer Srikkanth and his cronies caused a miscarriage of justice aga. poor guy.However, he shouldn't lose hope.In a years time Srikkanth and Hirwani will be out of selection team

  • Munawar on November 27, 2011, 8:19 GMT

    I feel for Bhajji, Jaffer and Parthiv. Who is the third specialist opener for Australia tour. No one. If need be they will ask Rahane to fill in. Feel bad for Rahane as he is not an opener. I don't think it will be good for his career. In any case Jaffer is far more talented, technically more sound and much more experienced than likes of Rahane or Rohit. One fails to understand the blatant bias against Jaffer. On the other hand one fails to understand blatant favor for W.Saha. He somehow makes it to the team by hook or by crook. Parthiv again is made the casualty despite good performances both with bat and keeping. Despite 22 wicket haul by Ashwin in this series I still think Ashwin is a Ranji level off spinner who has a good carrom ball. Even West Indies batsmen had started reading his carrom ball well and had sorted him out by end of series. Favourable pitches and average west indies batsmen were the reasons behind Ashwin success. India will sorely miss Bhajji's experience and guile.

  • Dummy4 on November 26, 2011, 6:55 GMT

    why is bhajji needed at all he is a match winner but insnt in any form at all 2 wickets in 3 ranji games my team openers viru gauti rahane middle order - dravid sachin vvs virat rohit WK dhoni p patel (becouse he has lot of intl exposure in odi cricket saha has very less and patel better batsman) fast bowlers zaheer(if fit)/irfan ishant varun umesh ishant praveen spinners ashwin ojha

  • Dummy4 on November 26, 2011, 6:53 GMT

    Why not Sreesanth? He failed to perform in England as any other Indian bowler. It does not mean that he should be excluded always. He z the best bowler in foreign pitches as we all know. And in England too, in the second test match (His first), he was the only bowler who test the English and picked up 3 wickets!!

  • Dummy4 on November 26, 2011, 6:53 GMT

    India squad for Aus: MSD, Viru, Gauti, Dravid, Sachin, VVS, Virat, Ashwin, Ishant, Umesh, Aaron, Rohit, Pragyan, PK, Ajinkya, Saha, Zak

  • Devadatta on November 26, 2011, 6:51 GMT

    Check the stats and find who's the best Indian seamer in Aus in recent times. The surprising answer is Ajit Agarkar. 27 wickets in 7 tests. The wickets to tests ratio is excellent (better than Kapil or Srinath's career ratio). Selectors - are you listening?

  • bismoy on November 26, 2011, 6:47 GMT

    harbajan singh should retire..He will not trouble cummins...forget him of troubling pointing and co..

    Harbajan has lost is form long back...but sad thing in india people asking performer like vvs ,rahul and sachin to retire not a useless bowler only reason age.

    when is last time harbajan taken 5 wicket any one remember??

  • Dummy4 on November 26, 2011, 6:40 GMT

    include sreesanth for his best revese swing!

  • Arulprakash on November 26, 2011, 6:40 GMT

    bhajji has 73 average in Aus how is that people are saying he has performed well in Aus ? he has just opened his mouth not his wicket tally

  • Dummy4 on November 26, 2011, 6:29 GMT

    First of all, I admire Harbhajan, who puts his heart in when playing for the country. The debate around the selection of Harbhajan Singh goes to show the fame surrounding his abilities. But, the reasons surrounding his selection are pretty unimpressive. One, his experience of touring australia and his ability to get under skins of the australian players cannot assure that he'd be grabbing a heap of wickets (His record in australia testifies to that), also, the australian team is under rebuilding and hence low on experience which should negate the advantage of harbhajan's experience. His Experience cannot be the cause of obstructing two spinners who have performed exceptionally well, showing the grit and patience to work out the batsmen. Ashwin and Ojha seems to struck the cord very well. Also, with an offie and left armer they add to the variety of the bowling attack.

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