Playing for Surrey again Northamptonshire, Pragyan Ojha (above) had figures of 16.3-10-8-6 © Getty Images
Playing for Surrey again Northamptonshire, Pragyan Ojha (above) had figures of 16.3-10-8-6 © Getty Images

 

By Dileep V

 

The decline of Harbhajan Singh coincided with Anil Kumble’s retirement. Kumble sustained pressure from one end with his quality control which helped Harbhajan reap wickets at the other end as batsmen favoured to attack the off-spinner.

 

Harbhajan has failed to take over as the team’s premier strike bowler after Kumble’s retirement. It’s only Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s munificence that has kept Harbhajan in the team against mounting failures and at the cost of worthy spinners waiting in the sidelines like left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha and off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.

 

India has failed to produce a left-arm spinner of international repute since the retirement of Dilip Doshi. Ravi Shastri, Maninder Singh and Venkatpathy Raju weren’t able to sustain their success for a long time, while the likes of Raghuram Bhat, Sunil Joshi, Nilesh Kulkarni, Murali Kartik and Rahul Sanghvi had very fleeting international careers.

 

It’s difficult to believe that the nation which once boasted of abundant richness in the spin department is struggling to find one world class bowler. When the great Bishan Singh Bedi was at his pomp, left-arm spinners like Padmakar Shivalkar and Dilip Doshi – two bowlers who would have walked into any other Test side in the world – had to wait helplessly in the sidelines. Shivalkar, very unfortunately, could not play for India, while Doshi battled gamely to become only the second player to take 100 Test wickets after making debut post 30 – the legendary Clarrie Grimmett being the other.

 

Shastri is currently the 11th highest wicket taker for India. Though he began his Test career as a bowler who could bat, he evolved into a batting all-rounder for most part of his career as evident with his 40 plus bowling average. Maninder and Raju had a long career span but ended up playing far too less Tests during that time.

 

Kulkarni, Bhat and Sanghvi had three, two and one Tests respectively to show on their resume.

 

Indian left-arm spinners after Bishan Singh Bedi’s retirement

 

Player

M

Span

Wkts

Avge

SR

Ravi Shastri

80

1981-1992

151

40.96

104.3

Dilip Doshi

33

1979-1983

114

30.71

81.7

Venkatpathy Raju

28

1990-2001

 93

30.72

80.7

Maninder Singh

35

1982-1993

 88

37.36

93.3

Pragyan Ojha

11

2009-

 42

40.40

84.2

Sunil Joshi

15

1996-2000

 41

35.85

84.1

Murali Kartik

 8

2000-

 24

34.16

80.5

 

Kartik and Ojha have suffered because the captains of their time did not have faith in them. Both of them are plying their trade in English county and doing very well for their sides when the national team is getting mauled by England. In fact the day India were getting battered in T20 match at Old Trafford, Ojha – playing for Surrey again Northamptonshire – returned with  magnificent figures of 16.3-10-8-6 to show what India has missed throughout the series.

 

Murali Kartik badly treated

 

Kartik last represented India way back in 2004. That Harbhajan has been the sacred cow and thus getting preferential treatment can be borne by the comparative figures of the two spinners in this Test:

 

1st innings:  Harbhajan 44.4-9-127-2. Kartik 42-12-76-0

 

2nd innings: Harbhajan 16-5-39-2. Karthik 14-6-17-2

 

In his second last Test in the same month and year, he bowled India to a memorable win against Australia with figures of 4-44 and 3-32 – his wickets included Mathew Hayden, Damien Martyn (twice), Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting. In the previous Test of the same series,Kartik had hauled in seven Australian wickets – again, the cream of the line-up.

 

That Kartik had to compete with Kumble and Harbhajan was tough, but that his captain Sourav Ganguly never had confidence in him was much harder pill for him to swallow. Even after performing consistently in domestic, county and IPL, Kartik was repeatedly overlooked. That prompted Nasser Hussain to ask if Kartik has rubbed the wrong way somebody powerful in Indian cricket.

 

Ojha has been given very limited opportunities since he debuted in 2009 and hasn’t played for India in Tests since November 2010. He was called up to replace the injured Harbhajan for the recent England tour, only for Dhoni to prefer Amit Mishra instead. Dhoni like Ganguly prefers the right-arm spinners over the lefties and it hasn’t helped Ojha at all.

 

Harbhajan, Murali Kartik & Pragyan Ojha performances in first-class since Kumble’s retirement (Nov 2008)

 

Player

M

Wkts

Avge

M Kartik

51

157

26.42

P Ojha

22

91

31.56

Harbhajan

27

107

35.74

 

That both Kartik and Ojha have been performing better than Harbhajan is there for all to see. It’s high time the selectors start picking team on current form than on past performances. It’s time Harbhajan is shown the door. His presence in the side is clearly hurting Indian cricket.

 

In fact Kartik, at 35, has been playing far more matches in different conditions and formats than any other spinner in India. He has had a raw deal and age doesn’t give him a chance of redemption. Hopefully, Ojha won’t go the Kartik way and will have enough opportunities to show his mettle. A good run-in of games is what these spinners need to get their confidence and rhythm in place as India moves into a new era sans the seasoned players.

 

(Dileep.V is a Scouser fan, Sports freak, Movie buff, Laggard Quizzer and dreams of setting foot on Anfield one day)