India's Harbhajan Singh needs to get back to the drawing board before donning the national colours again

The moment was right for Harbhajan Singh to make a mark in the second Test against England, but all he could manage was the wickets of Stuart Broad and James Anderson © Getty Images

The Krishnamachari Srikkanth-led selection committee drew heavy flak ever since India’s drubbing at the hands of England and Australia over a year ago. The fact that they chose to play it safe and seldom made an effort to take bold decisions didn’t go down well with many. Therefore, when Sandeep Patil and his entourage took over the reins a couple of months ago, the Indian supporters welcomed the change and hoped that the new committee would perhaps make some tough calls that would reverse India’s dwindling fortunes. Patil immediately established his authority, and — in what can be considered as a bold move — drew attention by not picking a single spinner in the India A squad that was to meet England in a warm-up fixture prior to the commencement of this series.

Such tactics, although not new, were rarely employed by the previous selectors, and hence one felt that this committee would not hesitate to travel down a different road. But alas, when it was time to pick the Indian squad for the first two Tests, the new bunch of selectors followed the tried, tested and unimaginative path of the previous selection committee. Players like Pankaj Singh, Manoj Tiwary and Shikhar Dhawan weren’t even considered despite making significant contributions at the domestic level. However, the most surprising inclusion was that of spinner Harbhajan Singh, who was out of favour with the earlier selection committee after a string of mediocre performances.

Ever since he was dropped, Harbhajan has featured in quite a few domestic fixtures, but to no avail. His brief stint with Essex yielded a couple of good performances, but nothing that could justify his inclusion in the Indian side. He was strangely chosen in the squad for the T20 World Cup that concluded last month and registered a four-wicket haul against England. The only other game he featured in during that tournament was against Australia, in which he bowled two overs and conceded twenty runs. Thereafter, he went wicketless in a few first-class games, but finished with overall figures of 44-15-89-3 in his only Ranji Trophy game this year against Hyderabad.

Immediately after that performance, he was named in the Indian squad for the two Tests at Ahmedabad and Mumbai. Why the selectors decided to opt for Harbhajan as the third spinner after Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, despite inspiring performances from youngsters like Iqbal Abdulla and Akshay Darekar in the domestic arena in the last one year, is difficult to comprehend. Harbhajan on the other hand has used the social media to express his angst against people questioning his place in the side. “Some people who have not played cricket themselves have been writing crap stuff about me,” he recently said. Not too long ago, when he went wicketless during a game for Essex, the media made a big deal out of it, to which the angry off-spinner tweeted, “Indian media is nothing but a joke.”

While Harbhajan could be right in his assessment that there could be no better judge than a player who has represented his country at the highest level, the fact remains that statistics don’t lie. Moreover, with Ojha and Ashwin on the rise since the last few months, it’s going to be an arduous task for Harbhajan to make his way back into the side with such insipid performances. The moment was right for him in the second Test against England to make a mark, considering his seniority, but all he could manage was the wickets of Stuart Broad and James Anderson. With due respect to the sublime artistry of Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen, Harbhajan was ineffective against the duo, in his own backyard, despite the wealth of experience.

It’s highly unlikely that Mahendra Singh Dhoni will opt to play three spinners again in the next Test at Eden Gardens, and hence, by all means, Harbhajan could be the one missing out. It will serve him well to go back to the drawing board and try getting some wickets, despite his belief that a good bowler should not be only judged by his wickets count and that skilful bowling methods should also be taken into account. Alas, an increase in wickets column is the only thing that could help him make the cut. In the last one year, Harbhajan has played just one Test, two T20s and absolutely no One-Day Internationals (ODIs). He’ll want to change that in the future, but for now, things look a little bleak.
 
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)