Australia v India, 1st Test, Brisbane, 5th day

Harbhajan in a spin

It's hardly been a secret which of the Indian spinners Sourav Ganguly prefers, but with another lacklustre performance, Harbhajan Singh's goodwill account is running dangerously towards the red

Sambit Bal at the Gabba

December 8, 2003

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Harbhajan Singh: Where has the magic gone?
© AFP


It's hardly been a secret which of the Indian spinners Sourav Ganguly prefers, but after another lacklustre performance, Harbhajan Singh's goodwill account is lurching dangerously towards the red. The Australians find it staggering that there should be a question-mark over Harbhajan's participation in the second Test, but on the evidence of his showing in his last three Tests, he will be not be the unanimous choice when the Indian management sit to pick the squad for the Adelaide Test which starts on Thursday.

Ganguly minced no words while describing Harbhajan's performance as "not good enough" in this Test. That he chose to single him out as one of the minuses was either meant as a taunt to spur on a bowler in whose matchwinning potentials he has invested immense faith, or was clear indication that Anil Kumble was the front-runner for the second Test.

Of course, it is Harbhajan that the Australians regard as a major threat, and they have lost no opportunity to unsettle him everytime he has come on to bowl. Ricky Ponting, who was dismissed five times in three Tests by Harbhajan on Australia's tour of India in 2001 and returned from that series with 17 runs, was down the track to the first ball he received from Harbhajan, hitting it over mid-on for four. He added a six to that soon and Damien Martyn followed, lofting him over mid-on for a four for his second scoring stroke. Harbhajan's 14 overs in the first innings cost him 68 runs without reward.

Even though he had the satisfaction of removing Matthew Hayden for 99, his second-innings figures were even less flattering. Ironically, though, he bowled better, throwing the ball up higher and slower, and he should have had Steve Waugh with a doosra, if Parthiv Patel hadn't muffed a simple stumping chance. But he was mauled by Hayden early on, and overall rarely looked like inconveniencing Australia's batsmen, let alone running through them.

"We all know Harbhajan is a class act," Ganguly said, "but he hasn't bowled as well as he is capable of. If we are to do well, he will have to do much better than this." Ganguly wouldn't be drawn in to a speculation over team composition, but he made it clear that Harbhajan will be competing "with another great spinner in Anil Kumble".

Though India failed to beat New Zealand in the Test series at home, Kumble was clearly the better spinner of the two. Harbhajan finished the series with six wickets at an average of 50, and was handled with ease by batsmen like Craig McMillan and Nathan Astle, who aren't noted players of spin bowling. Kumble's dismal away record is often held against him in arguments, but Harbhajan's overseas record has hardly been impressive. He failed in South Africa in 2001-02, and was only moderate in the West Indies and England. Ravi Shastri, while saying that one shouldn't be harsh on Harbhajan, feels that he is yet to master the craft of bowling on unhelpful pitches. "He has to realise that he will not get a wicket every over on these pitches. He has to learn to be patient."

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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.
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