By Nishad Pai Vaidya
In the spring of 2001, Steve Waugh led an Australia army into India on a mission that he termed was to conquer its “Final Frontier.” The world-beating Aussies of the nineties and the early 2000s had planted their flags on all the major Test playing nations, but India remained elusive.
In a David vs Goliath scenario, the Aussies were thwarted by skinny 20-year-old. His conventional off-breaks turned viciously and his ‘doosras’ were unreadable — a recipe of disaster for the tourists. In many ways, the 2-1 series victory that year changed Indian cricket and, indeed, the fledgling career of the spinner in question, Harbhajan Singh.
Harbhajan is one Indian the Australians love to hate. As one critic said, Harbhajan can not only stun the Aussies with his skill, but also has the rare ability of getting under their skins. Even as he makes a comeback to the Indian side after an uncertain period, he hasn’t warded off from the mind-games.
However, let us focus on the selection of Harbhajan — the player. His record against Australia is phenomenal as he has played crucial roles in several victories.
Below is his overall record against Australia:
These numbers suggest that Harbhajan has been a thorn in Australia’s flesh with his tweakers. However, he hasn’t enjoyed the same consistency in Australia and all the good performances against the Aussies have come on Indian soil. Here is his record against Australia in India:
Harbhajan accounted for 32 of them in the memorable 2001 series. His exploits at Kolkata and Chennai outsmarted the then best batting line-up in the world and is credited for scripting one of the most remarkable turnarounds in cricket history. On the subsequent tours, his performances have been crucial, if not spectacular. Considering his past record and the need to win this series, the Indian selectors have recalled the tried and tested warhorse. However, how much of a bearing would this past record have on the upcoming series?
With such a record, numerous Australian batsmen were obvious bunnies for Harbhajan. Former skipper Ricky Ponting was tormented by Harbhajan and fell ten times in 14 matches. Here is a list of Australian batsmen who have been dismissed by Harbhajan the most number of times in Test cricket.
A look at this list would reveal that majority of Harbhajan’s accustomed victims are no longer around international cricket. The exceptions are Shane Watson and Michael Clarke, who have returned to India as senior players guiding a young side. He has troubled Clarke somewhat as the average of 11.50 would indicate. The Australian captain is a much better player this time around and is in the form of his life. Harbhajan may find Clarke a different proposition this time around.
Harbhajan didn’t tour Australia in 2011-12 and as a result hasn’t bowled to the likes of David Warner and Ed Cowan. Phil Hughes, Matthew Wade and Usman Khawaja are yet to play a Test against India. Thus, Harbhajan faces a new unit with unfamiliar faces and it would be a new contest.
Will Harbhajan fit into India’s eleven?
Following Harbhajan’s axing from the Test side in 2011, Pragyan Ojha and Ravichandran Ashwin took over the spinning duties. Apart from the testing series against England, this partnership has done well in India and should be India’s first choice ahead of the Chennai Test. The Australian side isn’t very strong and have quite a few new faces in their line-up. They were tested by the India A spinners in the tour game and that should encourage Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men.
The conditions and the wicket would dictate whether Harbhajan gets into the eleven or not. A turner may push Dhoni to opt for three spinners and go with just one fast bowler. Or, in a bold move, he might even bring in Harbhajan at the expense of Ashwin or Ojha. Ashwin has had one bad series against England and is under a bit of pressure to hold on to his place in the eleven.
Harbhajan’s comeback against England didn’t pan out the way he would have hoped to. But, destiny presents him another opportunity against the old rivals. There is an unmistakable sense of déjà vu, one that would materialise only if he delivers the goods. Will an Australia series help the “Turbanator” resurrect his career yet again?
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_
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