Harbhajan Singh has said that the BCCI initiative to prepare seamer-friendly pitches has given "fake confidence" to medium-pacers and has taken spinners out of the game. Harbhajan also felt that Indian batsmen are being deprived of facing quality spin.
"I don't have an issue with leaving grass on the wicket," Harbhajan told ESPNcricinfo in Pune on the sidelines of Punjab's Ranji Trophy game against Maharashtra on a greentop. "But we shouldn't leave so much grass where even a 120-kph bowler appears like Malcolm Marshall. It is okay if someone bowling 120 looks like 125 but he shouldn't appear unplayable. Our wickets make such bowlers look unplayable. Some of these bowlers end up picking 50 wickets in a season. So you can't ignore them. When such a bowler is picked for international cricket, he gets exposed while bowling on a slightly drier surface. The ball doesn't reach the batsman.
"I feel the wicket should offer help to pacers on the first morning but it shouldn't get bowlers into a mindset that 'waah, toss jeet gaye, ab toh mera hi din hai [wow, we have won the toss. Now it is my day]". There should be help for bowlers but if a batsman applies himself he should also be able to score big. And on the fourth-fifth days, spinners should come into play.
"Play on a sporting wicket but don't play on a wicket where ordinary bowlers are made to look terrorizing. It doesn't help. We are not taking the game anywhere. You are giving fake confidence to bowlers. Anybody can bowl on such wickets. It is like on a rank turner, anybody can take wickets. Similarly, any seamer who can swing the ball a bit and bowls a good line and length will do well on such tops. But to make it challenging, you have to make the conditions change just like it happens in Test cricket."
Ever since India's twin whitewashes in four-Test series in England and Australia in 2011-12, the BCCI has instructed curators across the country to prepare seamer-friendly wickets. According to Harbhajan, this has resulted in Ranji league games being either played on greentops or flat decks, both of which have little help for spinners.
"It is very difficult to produce spinners if you are playing Ranji Trophy on greentops like this (Pune) wicket. You cannot see any cracks, any foot marks on this wicket. We won the toss and bowled them out for 210. Even in the first session [on the second and third days], the ball kept moving because there is so much of moisture below the wicket. It will remain green on all four days.
"Where will you get spinners to come into play on such tracks? The moment a spinner comes on to bowl, batsman feels it is an opportunity to make runs. There is no challenge. There is no spin, no bounce. There should be something for spinners. There should be something to play for each of the eleven guys in a team. That is missing."
"Where are the spinners? I remember Sachin (Tendulkar) practising for Shane Warne's deliveries that were pitched in the rough. Now when the rough isn't created at all, where will a spinner learn the art of bowling into the rough? It is good to make greentops but when the same players progress to Test cricket, they have to play on surfaces that are completely different." Harbhajan Singh
The push for pace-oriented tracks seems to have affected Indian batsmen's skills against spinners. While India faltered against Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann in the home Test series against England in 2012-13, part-timer offspinner Moeen Ali proved difficult to tackle in the away series in England earlier this year. Nathan Lyon ran through India's line-up on a turning pitch in Adelaide earlier this month.
Harbhajan felt that batsmen were not getting to face quality spinners in domestic cricket. "Where are the spinners? I remember Sachin (Tendulkar) practising for Shane Warne's deliveries that were pitched in the rough. Now when the rough isn't created at all, where will a spinner learn the art of bowling into the rough? It is good to make greentops but when the same players progress to Test cricket, they have to play on surfaces that are completely different. It does affect."
Harbhajan said that Ranji matches should be played over five days so that "everyone will have a fair chance to get into the game". He also suggested that batting and bowling points should be awarded to avoid draws. "Perhaps we can introduce bonus points based on runs scored and wickets taken. Like in England," Harbhajan said. "For instance, if you score 300, you get one, two for 350 and three for 400. Similarly while bowling, if you take six wickets, you get one point and three for nine. It will make the game more competitive."
The Pune game is Harbhajan's first this Ranji season. His previous game was the Vijay Hazare Trophy final a month ago. His absence from the Deodhar Trophy, the first two Ranji rounds and the Duleep Trophy has fuelled speculation that he has either lost interest in the game or wants to make an odd Ranji appearance with an eye on the IPL.
Harbhajan maintained that he hadn't lost his desire to make an international comeback. "I have commitments towards Punjab. I am playing because I love playing cricket. I have never thought of playing Ranji Trophy to keep myself in shape for IPL. It is a wrong perception that either me or any of the seniors are playing Ranji Trophy because they want to play IPL. There is a reason for me to play Ranji Trophy: I want to make a comeback into the Indian side. For that, I will have to do well in all domestic tournaments, including the Ranji Trophy."