<
>

Harbhajan hits out at lifeless SSC pitch

Harbhajan Singh warms up ahead of a practice session Associated Press

Harbhajan Singh has hit out at the benign nature of pitch laid out for the second Test between India and Sri Lanka at the SSC. Bowlers from both sides struggled to make an impression during the Test in which several batting records were broken. Harbhajan told Hindustan Times that such lifeless pitches brought nothing to Test cricket, "not even spectators".

"You just can't have one-sided contests where the batsmen dominate," he said. "The seamers run in and bowl their hearts out and get nothing out of it. There should be some purchase on the first two days. Later on, if the spinners bowl well, they should get bounce, if not turn.

"People say Test cricket is dying. It is because of such one-sided contests. If you look at series in Australia and England, they get a lot of results because they produce good wickets, wickets that are true. That's the way it should be everywhere."

There has been a glut of India-Sri Lanka encounters recently, with the sides clashing in nine Tests, 26 ODIs and four Twenty20s since July 2008. Harbhajan said he did not mind playing anyone, but hinted that players from both camps were bored of the frequent fixtures between the sides.

"I think in the last eight months, we have played a lot of cricket against Sri Lanka. Obviously, the batsmen get used to your bowling and the bowlers know where they're going to play them. But I can't do much about it. I love playing cricket, so that's the way it goes. Who ever you play against, I don't mind. But yes, even the Sri Lankan players feel the same. We have played each other almost every second month in the last eight months.

Harbhajan struggled for form and fitness in the first Two Tests before returning home, missing the final Test and the upcoming ODI series. He defended the team management's decision to play him despite being half-fit, in the absence of senior seam bowlers Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth. "The day I reached Sri Lanka, I got swine flu, but recovered in time for the first Test. While bowling in the second Test, I suffered a side strain but carried on playing. The other three bowlers haven't played much Test cricket, so I had to take on the responsibility and give it the best shot.

"Then, I was running with Paddy (Upton, the mental conditioning coach) on the Galle Face road when I felt a calf strain. From there on, I have been struggling to walk. This is why I couldn't play the third Test," he said.

Harbhajan hopes to recover in time for the Champions League T20 in September, where, fitness permitting, he will represent Mumbai Indians. "That's the only tournament we have. Before that, there is the Corporate Trophy. I would like to test myself there myself there before I go to South Africa. But it shouldn't really be a problem because the physio told me that it would take two weeks to heal. Then, I'll have to do a lot of strengthening work for the calf. I am hoping everything goes well and I will be back to bowling and running after two weeks."

Harbhajan had a forgettable time in the first two Tests, conceding 280 runs for his two wickets as India slipped down 0-1 in the series. He faced widespread criticism for his inability to spearhead the young attack, with Bishan Singh Bedi terming Virender Sehwag the best offspinner in India in a veiled insult. Harbhajan however refused to retaliate.

"That's his opinion and it doesn't matter. I have heard him say a lot of things. Some people are like that; you can't change. All I can say is that my parents have taught me to respect elders," Harbhajan said.