Harbhajan Singh's 100th Test February 21, 2013

Hot at home, lukewarm away

Throughout his career, Harbhajan Singh has predominantly remained a bowler more likely to influence the course of Tests played in India but less so outside

After spending more than a year out of the Test team, Harbhajan Singh made an unexpected comeback in the second Test against England in Mumbai. The match, by itself, did not turn out to be special for Harbhajan, who bowled only 21 overs in England's first innings and failed to trouble any of the top-order batsmen. After missing the next two Tests with an injury, he is poised to play his 100th Test in Chennai, a venue where he has the second-best match bowling performance among Indian bowlers. Harbhajan, who will become the tenth Indian player to feature in 100 Tests, is also one of only three Indian bowlers to pass the 400-wicket mark in Tests.The pinnacle of his 15-year career was undoubtedly the home series against Australia in 2001, when he picked up 32 wickets (including a hat-trick) as India completed an extraordinary turnaround. Throughout his career, Harbhajan established himself as a force in the subcontinent (predominantly at home) but proved to be far less effective outside the subcontinent. Harbhajan, who has played just seven Tests in the last two years (22 wickets at 38.45), will gather huge confidence from the fact that he is India's most successful bowler in home Tests against Australia.

Harbhajan's impact, like that of most Indian bowlers, was felt at home. In 53 Tests in India, he has 260 wickets at an average of 28.63. Only Anil Kumble (25 five-fors) ended with more five-wicket hauls than Harbhajan (18) in home Tests. Harbhajan remains one of only five Indian bowlers to pick up 30-plus wickets in a home series. He is also one of only six bowlers to pick up a haul of 30-plus wickets in a series of three Tests. However, there is a sharp contrast between his home and away performances. Outside India, he has picked up 148 wickets at a high average of 38.83. While his overall figures outside the subcontinent are respectable (117 wickets at 33.60), his display in Australia, England and South Africa has been very ordinary (41 wickets at 48.00). Surprisingly, his numbers within the subcontinent (outside India) are well below par: in 14 Tests, he has 31 wickets at an average of 58.58 with just one five-wicket haul. Harbhajan is one of India's most successful bowlers in wins (behind Kumble) with 216 wickets in 40 Tests at an average of 22.34.

Harbhajan Singh's Test career
  Matches Wickets Average SR 5WI/10WM
Overall 99 408 32.27 68.1 25/5
Home 53 260 28.53 63.4 18/4
Away 46 148 38.83 76.3 7/1
In Subcontinent 67 291 31.73 68.0 19/5
Outside Subcontinent 32 117 33.60 68.3 6/0
In wins 40 216 22.34 52.2 14/4

A lesser threat away
The contrast between Harbhajan's home and away performances is most evident in matches against Australia. In 12 matches at home, he has picked up an astonishing 81 wickets at an average of 24.48 with seven five-wicket hauls. However, in Australia, his performances have been pedestrian. In four matches, he has picked up just nine wickets at a poor average of 73.22. Against England too, Harbhajan has been a more potent bowler in home Tests (31 wickets at 34.41). In England, he has picked up 14 wickets at an average close to 50. In home Tests against New Zealand and Pakistan, he has been especially disappointing averaging 41.63 and 37.84 respectively. While he has bowled superbly in New Zealand (21 wickets at 24.19), he has failed to pick up a single wicket in two Tests in Pakistan in 2006. Harbhajan has been quite successful against South Africa at home (42 wickets at 26.00) and fairly good away too (18 wickets at 34.00). Although he averages nearly 47 in Sri Lanka, his solitary five-wicket haul set up a win in Galle in 2008. He has also profited against an inconsistent West Indian batting line-up picking up 56 wickets at an average of 22.60 in 11 Tests.

* Excludes Tests against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe

Harbhajan's record against top teams (home and away) *
Team Home (matches/wickets) Home (avg/5+ hauls) Away (matches/wickets) Away (avg/5+ hauls) Overall(matches/wickets) Overall(avg/5+ hauls)
Australia 12/81 24.48/7 4/9 73.22/0 16/90 29.35/7
England 9/31 34.41/2 5/14 49.78/1 14/45 39.20/3
New Zealand 7/22 41.63/0 6/21 24.19/1 13/43 33.11/1
Pakistan 7/25 37.84/2 2/0 -/0 9/25 52.04/2
South Africa 7/42 26.00/3 4/18 34.00/1 11/60 28.40/4
Sri Lanka 6/27 31.29/1 9/25 46.92/1 15/52 38.80/2
West Indies 3/20 16.75/2 8/36 25.86/3 11/56 22.60/5
Overall 51/248 28.96/17 38/123 40.12/7 89/371 32.66/24

Missing consistency
Harbhajan is one of only four spinners to pick up 400-plus wickets in Tests. Against top teams (excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe), he has picked up 371 wickets at 32.66. In comparison, Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan have averages of 25.52 and 24.87 respectively against top teams. Kumble, the highest wicket-taker for India, has a better average than Harbhajan (30.47). Warne has the highest percentage of away wickets (54.30) followed by Kumble (42.40). Among the four spinners, Harbhajan has the lowest percentage of away wickets (33.15). The average ratio (ratio of away average to home average) is the lowest for Warne (0.92). The corresponding value for Harbhajan (1.38) is slightly higher than Muralitharan's (1.29) but lower than Kumble's (1.48).

Warne's first-innings stats are by far the best among the four spinners. While Muralitharan and Kumble have averages slightly higher than 30, Harbhajan has a poor first-innings average of 41.44. Muralitharan has the best average in the second innings (22.67) followed by Warne (28.71). Again, Harbhajan's average in the second innings (33.27) is the highest in the group. Harbhajan's third-innings average of 25.12 is better than that of Kumble (30.25) but poorer than those of Warne and Muralitharan. Although, Harbhajan's numbers in the fourth innings are quite good (44 wickets at 28.84), they are still inferior compared to those of the other three spinners.

* Excludes Tests against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe

Stats of top four wicket-takers (spinners) - against top teams only *
Bowler Wickets/avg Away wkts % Avg ratio 1st inns (wkts/avg) 2nd inns(wkts/avg) 3rd inns(wkts/avg) 4th inns(wkts/avg)
Shane Warne 685/25.52 54.30 0.92 150/27.22 190/28.71 210/22.87 135/23.30
Muttiah Muralitharan 624/24.87 40.38 1.29 166/31.57 198/22.67 162/23.19 98/20.74
Anil Kumble 566/30.47 42.40 1.47 151/35.56 161/30.63 160/30.25 94/22.39
Harbhajan Singh 371/32.66 33.15 1.38 110/41.44 103/33.27 114/25.12 44/28.84

Best in his early years
In the first phase of Harbhajan's career (1998-2002), his bowling was far more attacking and this is reflected clearly in the stats. He picked up 144 wickets in 33 Tests at an excellent average (26.59) and strike rate (60.4). However, in the second phase, his bowling average (36.27) and strike rate (71.4) went up considerably. The rate of matches per five-for remained approximately equal to three across the first two phases. The influence of playing a high proportion of limited-overs games was felt in the third phase of Harbhajan's career. Although his average did not change much (34.75), his strike rate increased further to 72.8. In 38 matches between 2008 and the second Test in Mumbai, he picked up just five five-wicket hauls. Despite having a long and successful career, Harbhajan is likely to be remembered for the match-winning contributions in 2001 and 2002 when he ended with 81 wickets in 14 Tests at 21.32.

Harbhajan's career in phases
Phase Matches Wickets Average SR 5WI/10WM
1998-2002 33 144 26.59 60.4 11/2
2003-2007 28 107 36.27 71.4 9/2
2008-present 38 157 34.75 72.8 5/1
Overall 99 408 32.27 68.1 25/5

Top-class under Sourav Ganguly
Much of the success Harbhajan enjoyed came during the captaincy of Sourav Ganguly. When India, under Ganguly, halted Australia's record run of 16 consecutive Test wins in 2001, Harbhajan was one of the biggest factors in the series triumph. In 37 matches under Ganguly, Harbhajan picked up 177 wickets at an average of 26.84 with 15 five-wicket hauls. His strike rate in these matches (59.5) was also far better than his career figure of 68.1. However, Harbhajan's form took a beating under Rahul Dravid's captaincy. In 11 matches, he picked up just 30 wickets at an average of 46.83 and strike rate of 86.1, His luck was not too different in matches under Anil Kumble: he finished with 49 wickets in 12 matches at an average of 40. Under MS Dhoni, who took over as captain in 2008, Harbhajan has played 29 Tests and picked up 119 wickets at an average of 33.44 (three five-fors).

Harbhajan under various captains
Captain Matches Wickets Average SR 5WI/10WM
Sourav Ganguly 37 177 26.84 59.5 15/3
Rahul Dravid 11 30 46.83 86.1 3/0
MS Dhoni 29 119 33.44 71.4 3/0
Anil Kumble 12 49 40.00 79.0 3/1
Others * 10 33 32.45 69.2 1/1

Harbhajan Singh had the most success against Ricky Ponting, whom he dismissed ten times in 14 matches. The first five of those dismissals came in the 2001 series when Ponting only managed a total of 17 runs. In his next 16 innings against Harbhajan, Ponting was dismissed five times while averaging 45.40. Harbhajan also dismissed Matthew Hayden seven times in 15 innings (average 32.28) but Hayden managed to score at a fast clip (3.80). Both Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla, whom Harbhajan has dismissed six and five times respectively, have high averages (57.16 and 58.20) and balls-per-dismissal figures (101.50 and 121.20). Harbhajan's has an excellent head-to-head record against Ross Taylor, whom he has dismissed five times in six innings (average 20.00 and balls-per-dismissal 41.80).

Record against top batsmen (since 2002)
Batsman Innings/Dismissals Average Balls per dismissal Scoring rate
Matthew Hayden 15/7 32.28 50.85 3.80
Jacques Kallis 16/6 57.16 101.50 3.37
Hashim Amla 14/5 58.20 121.20 2.88
Kamran Akmal 10/5 23.80 45.40 3.14
Ricky Ponting 16/5 45.40 68.00 4.00
Ross Taylor 6/5 20.00 41.80 2.87

Madhusudhan Ramakrishnan is a sub-editor (stats) at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 23, 2013, 8:41 GMT

    46 matchs 148 wickets thats very good

  • ganesh on February 23, 2013, 0:53 GMT

    @Jordanmacmillan88 Nice to see that am not the only guy who thinks like that :) . Thank you! Even Anil wasn't a great bowler overseas. He was good only during 2001-2008, and i don't believe there is a species called as an Indian fast bowler. Indian cricket owes its name to the middle order legends!

    It is a pity that Harbhajan is in the 100 test club(of India) and the 400 wickets club!. Doesn't deserve it. Got nothing against the man, just stating the obvious. Even in this innings so far, he has been listless.. one hit me ball an over. Only talks the talk, Doesn't walk the talk!!

  • dennis on February 22, 2013, 8:50 GMT

    @ KVPraveen :Dude its not bout how a captain handles a player its bout how a player handles himself .good sensible bowlers would always perform no matter the conditions or Captains under whom they are playing .As far as elite panel is concerned it does not include any indian umpires it includes Billy Bowden,Aleem Dar, Steve davis,Kumar dharmesena,Nigel Long,Marais Erasmus,Ian Gould,tony hill,richard kettleborough,Bruce Oxenford,Asad Rauf and Rod tucker.As for the DRS related to the kallis dismissal it was the error made by the umpire not the technology as per the ICC. When u read articles ,read it properly that would make sure your facts are right.

  • Dummy4 on February 22, 2013, 2:29 GMT

    @scheduler dude can't you see the stats of him under ganguly it is just that ganguly has handled him better than any other captain the 32 wkts he took was bcoz of the way dada unleashed him did you even see the series not only s ravi but recently shavir tarapore,amish saheba were all in the elite panel dnt criticize the standard of the indian umpiring it is very much better and as for DRS is concerned it has shown it has lots of faulty technology jus take a look at the kallis dismissal

  • David on February 22, 2013, 1:37 GMT

    Sad to see how bad home and away stats are for Harbie. Let's hope for one last throw of the dice against his favourite foes at home: the Aussies...Sadly, Harbhajan isn't in the same league as the three great spinners of the era: Murali, Warnie and Kumble...

  • Dummy4 on February 21, 2013, 18:40 GMT

    He is certainly the one 'non great' bowler in the 400 test wickets club. Nevertheless, his stats are still imposing and Steyn apart, none of the present crop look like they'd be able to get to that number anytime soon. This is a golden opportunity for him to prove that he's still got it, since none of the present lot of spinners (or indeed those in the bench) seem as irresistible against a good batting lineup as Harbhajan was in his peak. Most of all Bhajji has to rediscover that mongrel in him which always brought the best out of him in a fighting situation ..

  • dennis on February 21, 2013, 17:11 GMT

    that 32 wicket series was ably supported by some poor indian umpiring and thats the cause still with players who keep picking wickets in domestic cricket but when it comes to the international level they are found lacking cause there are no Indian umpires in elite panel . I was surprised to see Umpire S Ravi officiating in eng-nz series. Indian umpires need DRS cause they never can make any good decisions.

  • Stephen on February 21, 2013, 16:52 GMT

    Interesting to note how terrible his record in the subcontinent outside India is. Everything else is either very good or understandably weak, but his record in Sri Lanka and Pakistan in particular are baffling.

  • greig on February 21, 2013, 16:48 GMT

    Pretty much sums up Indian players, great at home, rubbish away plus no DRS. Just dont have the skill to outsmart batsmen on non tailored pitches.

  • Cricinfouser on February 21, 2013, 16:25 GMT

    Harbhajan like most Indian bowlers, never did well overseas. At home, the pitches are more tailored to them and they have more things in their favor. While abroad, they don't have the skill or talent to outsmart the batsman. Even recent Indian spinners like Ashwin and co, have great records at home but hopeless in away matches. It just indicates how valuable India's batting is to them and how useless India's bowling has been more many decades now. Waiting for Clark to hammered this Indian side. Come on lads.