Showing posts with label spinner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spinner. Show all posts

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bhajji - Harbhajan Singh

Harbhajan Singh is one of India's all time great spin bowlers. Only Anil Kumble has taken more Test wickets for India amongst spinners, and only Kumble (66) and Chandrashekhar (66) have better Harbhajan's strike rate (68 deliveries). Bishan Singh Bedi took a wicket every 80 balls, Prasanna, a wicket every 76 balls. For Venkatraghavan the figure for 95 balls. 

Look beyond the famed quartet, and we find Vinoo Mankad taking a wicket every 91 balls, Subhash Gupte doing so once in 76 deliveries and Dilip Doshi doing it once every 82 balls. Only Kumble (2.6), Gupte (2.4) and Chandrashekhar (2.5) took more wickets per innings than Harbhajan has done - 2.3. Amongst finger-spinners no Indian spin bowler - not even the classical orthodox spinners, have done better than Harbhajan Singh. This, despite the fact that Harbhajan has faced far more professional batting line ups than any other Indian spin bowler except Kumble. Armies of computer technicians and simulated wickets dissect every quirk that a bowler has these days. This hurts spinners the most, for spinners rely on mystery and guile far more than the quick men.

And yet, Harbhajan is under fire these days. His performance has declined. Unlike in the days of Prasanna, Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Venkatraghavan, Gupte, Mankad and Doshi, India are now the World's Number One Test team, and are expected to win. Harbhajan is measured against Warne and Muralitharan, not against an Indian spin quartet, that, good as it was, won less than Kumble and Harbhajan have done in the 2000s. Faced with a number of merciless wickets, Harbhajan Singh has suffered. His unorthodox style counts against him, especially in India, where the spin standard has been set by the famed-spin-quartet. Facts rarely come in the way of perceptions in these matters.

There's little doubt that he's a bowler of great class. His ability to hit the bat high up towards the splice regularly suggests that he's not easy to read and is constantly beating batsmen in the flight. On slow, dead wickets, batsmen can play the ball off the pitch quite easy, and it becomes harder for a finger spinner to get wickets. Wrist spinners can still make something happening because they spin the ball more and have a greater capacity to get it to hurry off the pitch. But finger spinners need a wicket with at least some life if they are to be successful. It's especially hard to be an attacking wrist spinner like Harbhajan Singh is, on dead wickets. The bowler is forced to vary flight and speed, giving batsmen scoring opportunities and making it harder for captains to set fields. It's much harder for a finger spinner to induce error on dead wickets than any other type of bowler.

Harbhajan's criticism of dead wickets is therefore well founded. But it is often received in bad taste. However right he may be on the merits, Harbhajan doesn't help himself by praising a wicket after the first two days when he takes 4/76 in 35 overs, and then complaining at the end of the game after he takes 1/117 over the last two. Having little or no support at the other end doesn't help. Pragyan Ojha is a steady bowler, but he's not in the same class as Harbhajan Singh. I think curators at Test Match grounds will do well to produce wickets which offer at least something for the bowlers.

I suspect that an extend stint away from Home will do Harbhajan a lot of good. He will look forward to South Africa, England and next December, Australia.
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