'This pitch reminded me of Lahore' - Harbhajan
Of his 18 five-wicket hauls, Harbhajan Singh might look back on his latest as one of his more-fortunate returns. He had a forgettable first day, a middling second, when he managed one wicket, and a steady third. Four of the five victims might have fallen because of their eagerness to push the score along, but Harbhajan wasn't complaining. On such a pitch, who would?
Just two series earlier, Harbhajan had experienced what he termed as the "worst" phase of his career (pillaged for 355 runs with not a wicket to show for it). That goes to say something, because this young man, only 25, has had some turbulent times. "This pitch was reminding me of Lahore," he said with a wry smile. "It's flat, very flat. You can only try and hit the right line and length, waiting for the batsman to make the mistake. You just have to be patient and keep talking to yourself.
"You have to be brave enough to give the ball a little bit of air to bring the batsman down. If you are brave enough you can get wickets on any sort of track. It is still very flat and I also think the boundaries are only 50 yards [smiles]. It was a bit tough bowling on this wicket, because there were no footmarks ... I would like to see the players get runs on seaming tracks or when the bowler has a chance to spin the ball. It should be a fair contest. If you are batting on such tracks, anybody will get runs, even I will get runs." As if the unhelpful conditions weren't enough, Brian Jerling, the umpire, had a word with Harbhajan about bowling a negative line wide of the off stump.
Uncertainty seems to follow Harbhajan. Not everyone was entirely sure why he missed the first Test - logic said he was dropped, the team manager said he was "rested". More speculation followed at St Lucia - before the match Greg Chappell said it was a "stiff groin", after the game he termed it a "freak" injury. Then he found himself bowling on the first day, on a pure featherbed, against a proper terror. Chris Gayle simply had him for lunch.
"I bowled in the right spots, but Gayle played well. It's part of the game, because sometimes you bowl well and don't get wickets, some other times you get wickets even if you don't bowl well. I was really happy with my effort and enjoyed my bowling here. I am really happy with the way I have comeback. It's always tough when somebody is going after you. But bowling to someone like Gayle is a great challenge. You may go for runs. As long as you know you are trying something. Maybe he was not comfortable defending. Well he got away with it, next time I will make sure I have better plans."
So what did he do to rectify the situation on the second day? "My length in my first spell was shorter yesterday and I did not try too many things," he continued. "It was only in the second spell when I bowled 12 -13 overs that I got back my confidence. Again the ball started pitching very well. There wasn't much spin but the ball was pitching in the right length and that was very important. I also got a wicket in that spell, so that was also very important. Today my body position was also very good in the final stride."
He was lucky, of course. The four wickets which he did manage today came in a mighty harum-scarum at the end, when the West Indies tail finally tried to get a move on. "The situation was different today," he admitted. "They were not in defensive mode and were even prepared to attack and get runs. When any team attacks, there is a good chance of getting wickets."
The end was comical, with Corey Collymore letting a ball through his legs to get bowled, and Harbhajan was in splits once he realised what had happened. "The way he left the ball was strange," he said of his reaction. "On this wicket even getting a No. 11 out is very difficult." Taking everything into account, Harbhajan had done well. The best compliment was reserved for the last, though, when Marlon Samuels, who'd carted him for two sixes and two fours, called him a "beautiful" offspinner.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo