Harbhajan Singh, whose injured right-hand middle finger was operated upon yesterday, has been officially ruled out of competitive cricket for five months.

Andrew Leipus, the physio of the Indian cricket team who had accompanied Harbjajan to Melbourne for the surgery, said the ligament rupture on the knuckle of the finger would take two to three months to heal. That will be followed by rigorous physiotherapy for a couple of months. Leipus said, "It will be four to five months, before he can start bowling again."

However, the positive news for the Indian camp is that Zaheer Khan looks good to play in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne after missing out the second Test due to a hamstring niggle. "He had a sprint this morning and felt good," Leipus said, "He should be okay for the third Test. I'll be upset if he doesn't play at Melbourne."

There have question marks over whether Harbhajan should have been allowed to be on the tour, but Leipus said that the team management had banked on him pulling through the series. "He was fine before the tour began, but the injury flared up during the first Test."

Leipus added, "I was aware one day he would require to do an operation. I thought if he gets through the tour I would be happy. Sports medicine is all about balancing, keeping the guy going. He would've been better off with an operation then [last July]."

Harbhajan will stay on with the team until the end of the tour under the care of Leipus, who said that the follow up and rehabilitation was critical to the success of the operation.