Harbhajan rides his luck
Harbhajan Singh has scored five Test fifties since the start of 2008 and India have lost only one of those games. Four of those have come against Australia. Coming in at 204 for 6 today after a good start had been wasted on the first day of a series-decider, Harbhajan could not have chosen a better time to score another half-century. He would admit he was lucky, given that many edges found the gaps and a couple of catches were dropped. But his thinking was clear - hitting out was the only option and with New Zealand setting attacking fields, he was aware that most of the powerful hits would fetch good runs.
Apart from the edged boundaries, Harbhajan also had a wristy straight drive, a clean slog sweep, a trademark paddle sweep, pull through midwicket, and a lusty blow off Daniel Vettori to show. He also ran remarkably well between the wickets with MS Dhoni. That he ran 26 of his 60 runs is an impressive stat for what was largely a hit-and-miss effort.
"Today was again a very good chance for me to deliver under pressure," Harbhajan said. "Good for the team. Thank God I have done well. Dhoni and I had a great partnership. Those were crucial runs and obviously it will help us in the game."
The enormity of the situation, with India chasing an elusive series win in New Zealand, wasn't lost on Harbhajan. "Obviously it was crucial to contribute lower down the order," he said. "Now if we look at the scoreboard we have got decent runs on it. When I went in to bat probably it wasn't the same. Thankfully, me, Dhoni and Zaheer [Khan], Munaf [Patel] and Ishant [Sharma], got 180-odd runs in the last session. It was fantastic, good effort."
Even when India were battling to avoid the follow-on in Napier, Harbhajan had come out and tried to break the shackles. He hit two boundaries off the first five balls he faced then and died by the sword. He was prepared to take similar risks today. "That's the way I play," Harbhajan said. It helped that the bowlers rarely attacked the stumps, often going for the short-pitched stuff or followed his exaggerated movements before the ball was delivered.
"They bowled short to me," he said. "On these kind of wickets it is easy to score runs when they bowl short."
Harbhajan's boisterous methods with the bat also translated into obvious confidence when he came for the post-match press conference. After joking that he had missed out on a century, he put his role in perspective. "I am improving as a batman and making an effort to score a hundred some day," Harbhajan said. "But at this point in time I think I am not good enough yet to make it happen. But, as and when the team needs me, as at Nagpur, Sydney and Bangalore, I have scored runs. It was important for me, Zaheer and Ishant to stay at the wicket with the batsmen and score those crucial runs. It will definitely help us."
But he also tried to silence those who've criticised his bowling away from home. "Most of the wickets in New Zealand don't seem to be spinner-friendly," he said. "I will just go out there and give my best shot. I have bowled well in the one-day series and in the Test series so far, though many people have been writing... that I am only good enough in India. Whatever. I know what I have been doing, what is important for the team, what matters to the country. I will go out there and give my best shot. If I hit the right sort of areas, I should be able to pick those crucial wickets for the team. It might not be five or six, but it could be one or two. If it can help the team win, I will be happy with that."
His chance with the ball will come soon.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo