Harbhajan the batsman stings Deccan
Perhaps it's his unwieldy manner that makes opponents not take him seriously as a batsman. But Harbhajan Singh loves to bat. He listens to seniors likes Sachin Tendulkar on the art of batting and practices them in the nets.
In his first proper training session with the Mumbai Indians, two days before their opening match, Harbhajan batted for extended periods in the nets, first spending nearly 45 minutes facing bowlers of all types, and later moving to the adjacent net to face the bowling machine. There he spent another 45 minutes, adjusting the speeds all the while.
That hardwork finally paid off today when Harbhajan walked in after Tendulkar's departure in the 17th over. Once again, Tendulkar had batted effortlessly for another half-century, but this time he was let down repeatedly by partners at the top and middle order, who batted irresponsibly and threw away their wickets.
At 119 for 7, with three overs remaining, even 150 seemed a long way away. But Harbhajan, who plays with a bat as heavy as MS Dhoni's, swung it wildly in all directions and importantly, timed it sweetly to flummox his opponents. His six off Kemar Roach, over deep square leg, was a delight and by time he ran back to the dressing room at the end of the innings, he had put Mumbai in a competitive position. In a matter of 18 deliveries, he had turned the game on its head.
It was no fluke. Most of it was pure timing, one of Harbhajan's strengths. Add to that his grit and mix it with his penchant to excel in tough situations. It would be wrong to compare his half-centuries in Test matches to his performance today because the challenge and demand is of a completely different kind. Still, the common thread is the nature of his strokes, which is to play the ball at the last instant.
Today, Harbhajan started off edgily, with a chip which landed just short of long-on. The bowler was his nemesis of the past, Andrew Symonds, but Harbhajan importantly let his bat do the talking this time. He opened up during the last two deliveries of the over, making space and cracking it over the in-field and past the ropes. When Roach attacked with him pace but faltered in length, Harbhajan took advantage by crossing the ropes with ease. Incidentally, Harbhajan revealed the reason he batted with confidence was because Tendulkar had given him one of his bats.
In the last two years, Harbhajan has admitted that he has been taking his batting seriously and set his sights on a Test century, something even Shane Warne doesn't have. Today he expressed his wish to record his maiden half-century in the shorter formats - he is yet to get a fifty in ODIs and Twenty20s. "I made 49 against Australia in Vadodara last year in an ODI. Today once again I finished on the same score. I guess to get to the fifty I might need to perform some puja" Harbhajan said light-heartedly, after Mumbai's 41-run victory, their fifth in six games.
His casual ways can be misleading. At the end of that practice session on the eve of Mumbai's opener, Harbhajan lofted one against the bowling machine, and then chased it to catch it. It was indeed a hilarious sight. How can one take this man seriously? Opponents often commit that mistake and are sometimes taken for a ride.