Harbhajan Singh has sat out more than he has played over the last six months. Having taken a break to spend time with family during the first-class leg of the domestic season, he returned to play the limited-overs competitions. As far as bowling form goes, he has been steady, if not spectacular.
Coming into IPL 2017, there were some doubts over his place in a setup that seemed to have reinforcements for every big player. In their opening game last week, Mumbai Indians needed fast bowling insurance without losing their batting cushion. They went with an extra foreign bowler in Tim Southee to complement Mitchell McClenaghan. That meant they were forced to leave out Harbhajan, their most-experienced spinner. Given how Rising Pune Supergiant's slow bowlers fared, Mumbai may have regretted leaving him out.
Upon making the trip back home for their second game, they immediately brought Harbhajan back and he held his own to concede at little over six to the over, playing the role of a support bowler to Krunal Pandya. On Wednesday, Harbhajan was summoned as an attacking option against two aggressive left-hand batsmen - David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan. While he beat Dhawan with drift, Warner took a liking to his darts, hitting him for successive boundaries over cover in his second over. He responded by tucking him up and bowling four successive dots.
The turn that he once extracted off the surface hasn't been on show in recent times but subtle adjustments in length and pace have helped him remain a T20 force. Using the crease to flight the ball wide, he showed smarts to apply the brakes on Sunrisers and finish with respectable figures of 4-0-23-2 in muggy conditions where dew made it tough to maintain the kind of control over the ball that spinners are keen on.
The wow moment
At 75 without loss at the halfway mark, Sunrisers had set themselves up to add at least 100 more. While Dhawan was not quite fluent, Warner had shown more than a glimpse of his destructive self. Therefore getting Warner right then not just slowed the innings down but also allowed Rohit Sharma an opportunity to try and slip in a couple of quiet overs before using his yorker specialists Jasprit Bumrah and Lasith Malinga came on in the last five overs. But more than the wicket, the manner in which Harbhajan earned his dismissals showed sparks of his old combative self.
Prior to his second spell, Harbhajan's numbers read 2-0-10-0. He was welcomed to the crease with a switch-hit that sailed over what would have been a right-hander's fine leg. Having darted one in full, he saw Warner change his grip and use a full-blooded swing to generate enough power. By keeping the left-hander's third man - who had been cleared by the switch-hit - in and continuing to attack from around the stumps, he threw Warner another challenge. Off the second delivery, he slowed the pace down considerably. The length was shortened too, which meant Warner couldn't quite generate power off the sweep. The angle meant Warner got into a tangle that resulted in a top-edge which Parthiv Patel pouched brilliantly by sprinting to his left. Then, in his next over, he anticipated Deepak Hooda's slog and tossed it up outside off. The ball dipped just enough for Hooda to top-edge to long-on. Two wickets and an economy of less than six meant he had more than earned his pay for the day.
The 15 dots he bowled in his four-over spell are the most Harbhajan has bowled in an IPL match since 2015
Harbhajan dismissed Warner for the third time on Wednesday, the joint-most Warner has fallen to any bowler in the tournament
Harbhajan's 51 wickets in T20s at the Wankhede are the most by an Indian bowler at a venue
What they said
"On a smallish ground, with a bit of dew around, Harbhajan Singh has bowled an excellent spell."
Harsha Bhogle on Twitter