After spending more than a year out of the Test team, Harbhajan Singh made an unexpected comeback in the second Test against England in Mumbai. The match, by itself, did not turn out to be special for Harbhajan, who bowled only 21 overs in England's first innings and failed to trouble any of the top-order batsmen. After missing the next two Tests with an injury, he is poised to play his 100th Test in Chennai, a venue where he has the second-best match bowling performance among Indian bowlers. Harbhajan, who will become the tenth Indian player to feature in 100 Tests, is also one of only three Indian bowlers to pass the 400-wicket mark in Tests.The pinnacle of his 15-year career was undoubtedly the home series against Australia in 2001, when he picked up 32 wickets (including a hat-trick) as India completed an extraordinary turnaround. Throughout his career, Harbhajan established himself as a force in the subcontinent (predominantly at home) but proved to be far less effective outside the subcontinent. Harbhajan, who has played just seven Tests in the last two years (22 wickets at 38.45), will gather huge confidence from the fact that he is India's most successful bowler in home Tests against Australia.
Harbhajan's impact, like that of most Indian bowlers, was felt at home. In 53 Tests in India, he has 260 wickets at an average of 28.63. Only Anil Kumble (25 five-fors) ended with more five-wicket hauls than Harbhajan (18) in home Tests. Harbhajan remains one of only five Indian bowlers to pick up 30-plus wickets in a home series. He is also one of only six bowlers to pick up a haul of 30-plus wickets in a series of three Tests. However, there is a sharp contrast between his home and away performances. Outside India, he has picked up 148 wickets at a high average of 38.83. While his overall figures outside the subcontinent are respectable (117 wickets at 33.60), his display in Australia, England and South Africa has been very ordinary (41 wickets at 48.00). Surprisingly, his numbers within the subcontinent (outside India) are well below par: in 14 Tests, he has 31 wickets at an average of 58.58 with just one five-wicket haul. Harbhajan is one of India's most successful bowlers in wins (behind Kumble) with 216 wickets in 40 Tests at an average of 22.34.
A lesser threat away
The contrast between Harbhajan's home and away performances is most evident in matches against Australia. In 12 matches at home, he has picked up an astonishing 81 wickets at an average of 24.48 with seven five-wicket hauls. However, in Australia, his performances have been pedestrian. In four matches, he has picked up just nine wickets at a poor average of 73.22. Against England too, Harbhajan has been a more potent bowler in home Tests (31 wickets at 34.41). In England, he has picked up 14 wickets at an average close to 50. In home Tests against New Zealand and Pakistan, he has been especially disappointing averaging 41.63 and 37.84 respectively. While he has bowled superbly in New Zealand (21 wickets at 24.19), he has failed to pick up a single wicket in two Tests in Pakistan in 2006. Harbhajan has been quite successful against South Africa at home (42 wickets at 26.00) and fairly good away too (18 wickets at 34.00). Although he averages nearly 47 in Sri Lanka, his solitary five-wicket haul set up a win in Galle in 2008. He has also profited against an inconsistent West Indian batting line-up picking up 56 wickets at an average of 22.60 in 11 Tests.
* Excludes Tests against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe
|Team||Home (matches/wickets)||Home (avg/5+ hauls)||Away (matches/wickets)||Away (avg/5+ hauls)||Overall(matches/wickets)||Overall(avg/5+ hauls)|
Harbhajan is one of only four spinners to pick up 400-plus wickets in Tests. Against top teams (excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe), he has picked up 371 wickets at 32.66. In comparison, Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan have averages of 25.52 and 24.87 respectively against top teams. Kumble, the highest wicket-taker for India, has a better average than Harbhajan (30.47). Warne has the highest percentage of away wickets (54.30) followed by Kumble (42.40). Among the four spinners, Harbhajan has the lowest percentage of away wickets (33.15). The average ratio (ratio of away average to home average) is the lowest for Warne (0.92). The corresponding value for Harbhajan (1.38) is slightly higher than Muralitharan's (1.29) but lower than Kumble's (1.48).
Warne's first-innings stats are by far the best among the four spinners. While Muralitharan and Kumble have averages slightly higher than 30, Harbhajan has a poor first-innings average of 41.44. Muralitharan has the best average in the second innings (22.67) followed by Warne (28.71). Again, Harbhajan's average in the second innings (33.27) is the highest in the group. Harbhajan's third-innings average of 25.12 is better than that of Kumble (30.25) but poorer than those of Warne and Muralitharan. Although, Harbhajan's numbers in the fourth innings are quite good (44 wickets at 28.84), they are still inferior compared to those of the other three spinners.
* Excludes Tests against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe
|Bowler||Wickets/avg||Away wkts %||Avg ratio||1st inns (wkts/avg)||2nd inns(wkts/avg)||3rd inns(wkts/avg)||4th inns(wkts/avg)|
Best in his early years
In the first phase of Harbhajan's career (1998-2002), his bowling was far more attacking and this is reflected clearly in the stats. He picked up 144 wickets in 33 Tests at an excellent average (26.59) and strike rate (60.4). However, in the second phase, his bowling average (36.27) and strike rate (71.4) went up considerably. The rate of matches per five-for remained approximately equal to three across the first two phases. The influence of playing a high proportion of limited-overs games was felt in the third phase of Harbhajan's career. Although his average did not change much (34.75), his strike rate increased further to 72.8. In 38 matches between 2008 and the second Test in Mumbai, he picked up just five five-wicket hauls. Despite having a long and successful career, Harbhajan is likely to be remembered for the match-winning contributions in 2001 and 2002 when he ended with 81 wickets in 14 Tests at 21.32.
Top-class under Sourav Ganguly
Much of the success Harbhajan enjoyed came during the captaincy of Sourav Ganguly. When India, under Ganguly, halted Australia's record run of 16 consecutive Test wins in 2001, Harbhajan was one of the biggest factors in the series triumph. In 37 matches under Ganguly, Harbhajan picked up 177 wickets at an average of 26.84 with 15 five-wicket hauls. His strike rate in these matches (59.5) was also far better than his career figure of 68.1. However, Harbhajan's form took a beating under Rahul Dravid's captaincy. In 11 matches, he picked up just 30 wickets at an average of 46.83 and strike rate of 86.1, His luck was not too different in matches under Anil Kumble: he finished with 49 wickets in 12 matches at an average of 40. Under MS Dhoni, who took over as captain in 2008, Harbhajan has played 29 Tests and picked up 119 wickets at an average of 33.44 (three five-fors).
Harbhajan Singh had the most success against Ricky Ponting, whom he dismissed ten times in 14 matches. The first five of those dismissals came in the 2001 series when Ponting only managed a total of 17 runs. In his next 16 innings against Harbhajan, Ponting was dismissed five times while averaging 45.40. Harbhajan also dismissed Matthew Hayden seven times in 15 innings (average 32.28) but Hayden managed to score at a fast clip (3.80). Both Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla, whom Harbhajan has dismissed six and five times respectively, have high averages (57.16 and 58.20) and balls-per-dismissal figures (101.50 and 121.20). Harbhajan's has an excellent head-to-head record against Ross Taylor, whom he has dismissed five times in six innings (average 20.00 and balls-per-dismissal 41.80).
|Batsman||Innings/Dismissals||Average||Balls per dismissal||Scoring rate|
Madhusudhan Ramakrishnan is a sub-editor (stats) at ESPNcricinfo