South Africa v India, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 3rd day January 4, 2011

Harbhajan the right man for a scrap


Harbhajan Singh has come in for criticism for his bowling over the last year, not unjustifiably, as his average of 40.69 suggests. However, when it comes down to a scrap, you want him in your corner. And whether he was batting or bowling today, it was a scrap all right. There was no use hanging around with the bat, for Dale Steyn would have surely got him with one of those amazing outswingers, and Harbhajan took the sensible approach, getting his body out of harm's way and slogging.

To the day three years ago in Sydney, in another scrap, he gave Sachin Tendulkar similar support in securing India a first-innings lead. Today, he set South Africa thinking with one four down the ground off Morne Morkel and another huge hook off Lonwabo Tsotosbe that nearly ended up in the Newlands Train Station. That 76-run partnership with Tendulkar, 40 of which Harbhajan scored, set India on the road to sharing control of the game.

"I always enjoy my batting," Harbhajan said at the end of the day's play. "I don't have the technique to bat like Rahul Dravid or Sachin Tendulkar or Jacques Kallis. This is the way I play my cricket, and I knew [if the ball was pitched in certain] areas, it was going to disappear. I did hit a couple of big sixes today, but I am happy about it. Would have been nice to get another 50-60. I am always greedy."

He spoke about that Sydney partnership too, and how it has been great for him to have batted with Tendulkar and VVS Laxman. "When I have batted with Sachin and Laxman, they have been helpful. In Sydney I batted with Sachin and again today. They have a lot of things to tell me. When I was batting, Sachin told me to play my natural game and counter-attack was the best option. With the kind of technique I have, I could have got hit on my ribs or somewhere else. He told me just to play my shots. I felt I should play my shots, and they would try to do something else. I think that worked, and they didn't bowl the right line to me."

When India came out to bat, South Africa got off to a solid start, but Harbhajan emphasised his presence with two late wickets. Given the way the pitch has behaved, Harbhajan could be a crucial factor on day four. "There is a bit of bounce, and it's not even. Some balls are going down and some are bouncing little bit more than you expect. It's good if you keep on hitting the right areas, you still have a chance of getting good batsmen out, like [Jacques] Kallis and [Hashim] Amla. Those are the two key wickets we need to get, and then we will be in the driving seat."

Another scrap where Harbhajan has been influential is in keeping Sreesanth calm. Sreesanth has courted controversy with his sledging and been taunted by the crowd, but Harbhajan has made a conscious effort to keep him in check. When Sreesanth got Amla's wicket in the first innings, he seemed to want to run towards the crowd. Harbhajan, though, held him back. Physically. And mock-clapped at the crowd from afar.

"Crowd tried booing me in Australia, it doesn't affect me," Harbhajan said. "Let them enjoy. They have come to see the game. And obviously Sreesanth is getting more famous with this. I have enjoyed in Australia, let him enjoy here. It is not a bad thing."

Regarding the general heating up of tempers in the series, Harbhajan suggested he was enjoying it. "This is how the cricket is being played. When No.1 and No.2 sides play, there's a lot of competitiveness, but I think everything is under control. Yes, you have to play with aggression. You can't just be quiet there and waiting for things to happen. If you feel this is the way to play, why not go out and express yourself? This is Test cricket, not some match in the park. You have to have aggression, and you have to have that thing inside you to win games for your country. They are trying to win games for their country; we are trying for our country. Whatever trouble it takes we will go ahead and make sure we get the result we are looking for."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2011, 10:28 GMT

    It's nice to have characters like Harbhajan around! Itl spices up proceedings!

  • Varasidhi on January 5, 2011, 10:22 GMT

    @NRI11 Every bowler needs a reasonably helpful wicket to take wickets... Steyn and Morkel got tonked around in Abu Dhabi against Pak, in India and more memorably by Sangakarra and Mahela during their world record stand. Please point me out to a bowling unit that can get 20 wickets on a dead, flat, batting track... even Bangladeshi and Zimbabwean wickets at that!!! And the system does take into account the number of test wins besides series wins... please review your comment on that. Nobody says India is as dominating as WI and Aus were... but they sure as hell aren't getting beat. What's more... they're winning series after series :) That to me is reason enough to be ranked up there. For anyone else to stake a claim... they need to beat India first, home or away!

  • Chandrasekhar on January 5, 2011, 9:49 GMT

    @NRI11: Now you want India to beat other team by huge margin just to prove that they are No.1 team? Why? Is it not enough that they defeat opposite teams at home and away regularly to prove that they are at present the best team in the world.

  • Vinod on January 5, 2011, 9:29 GMT

    @NRI11 - Guess you should write to ICC to change the ranking method...It's the series win that every team strives for & when one teams dominates the other to win the series, that's what counts..

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2011, 8:18 GMT

    THis is the closely contested series between the two countries so far and i think after the series a lot of changes would be made on both sides, Dravid seem to have lost his touch with the bat and on the other side Smith needs a solid opening partner as Peterson can't seeem to get a big score>Dumminy needs to come back at 5 and Prince open the batting with smith.

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2011, 7:56 GMT

    @NRI11, You have a misunderstanding about the point system for sure. Every match carries points, even if it's a draw.The points & ratings a team gets after a match, depends on the opposite team they're playing against. You get less points if you beat a team rated lower than you,but get more points if you beat a team higher rated than your team.Also, if there's a draw, then lower rated team's ratings increase,but higher rated team's ratings decrease.So for a team who's at the top of the table, it's necessary to win everytime to maintain their position,because even a draw will reduce their ratings.& one more thing, ranks are decided on the basis of ratings,not points.

  • am on January 5, 2011, 7:43 GMT

    wow bhajji is so funny hehehee.. he enjoyed in australia with all that booing and now sreesant is enjoying in SA hahah.. wow hats off to the way he is thinking and taking it in his stride.. first he slaps sree infront of everyone..and again big brother coming to come on bhajji.. go for the kill rip apart SA batsman.. all u need is amla and kallis.. thats it ..match will finish quickly.. in all the three tests.. it is kallis and amla who are holding this SA side together..otherwise sA side is pretty weak in batting dept.. bowling .. yes agreed Steyn, morkel are very very dangerous.. still Indians negotiated very well.. All the best to Sreesanth- he is the key.. today 5th of Jan is his lucky day ..and Zak - too can be equally dangerous.. ishanth might go for few but hopign he might take wickets..bhajji has def chance to take more.. 5 is lucky for many of our cricketers..especially gambhir but he doesnt bowl so hoping SA is bundled out quickly and gambhir bats..

  • Umair on January 5, 2011, 7:40 GMT

    Enough has been written about Sachin's dismissal; an edge caught by Boucher but not given out. All Indian here are saying "ball dropped short of Boucher" and blah blah. For God's sake please read bulletin of third day where its clearly written Tendulkar edge the bowl and was caught by Boucher. But Tendulkar did not move an inch; what sort of a great he is I wonder? My question to Indians is; do you think umpire gave it not out bcoz it dropped short of Boucher? My own version on that is that umpire gave in not out bcoz he did not hear the edge. And Tendulkar kept on standing. What s shame!!

  • Rohan on January 5, 2011, 7:31 GMT

    NRI11, few people cnt see india no.1, simple reason they r jealous, u said win or lose no one thinks india no.1, very stupid coment, only oz managed to beat proteas at their home so far, and plz dnt rate engalnd no.1, its a team full of south africans, irish, asians and 3-4 british, let anderson, broad , bresnan, bowl in indian wickets, sehwag will send them to high school, see u in world cup.....

  • rajneesh on January 5, 2011, 7:12 GMT

    @NRI11. I think you have no idea what you are talking about. You talk about 4 great batsmen and leave out RD at no 3. Then you say that Dhoni is good. Yeah he comes in at no 6. That makes a good top 6. That leaves Bhajji & Zak as two good batsmen. So what 4 weak spots are you talking about? Check you stats as well before you comment on anything. In the game at Durban, Zak showed that you dont need to bowl at 140-145 to take wickets. This team can perform, regardless of the conditions. Like everyone says after losing to India "They are not No 1 for nothing!"

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