Harbhajan Singh..... In four matches in Australia, Habhajan has nine wickets for 73.22! And in three Ranji Trophy matches, he has just two wickets © AFP

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

The series win against the West Indies has come as a morale booster for India ahead of the Australia tour. The disastrous Test series in England had shaken up the Indian setup and they needed a win to regain their confidence before embarking upon one of the toughest tours. It has been a complete team effort as the batsmen have got the runs and the bowlers have wickets to show. The performances of Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, in particular, are the biggest positives to emerge when one keeps the background to their selection in perspective.

 

The ineffectiveness of Harbhajan Singh was hurting India for quite some time and the selectors took the correct decision to axe him and blood in these two youngsters. While Ojha has been a part of the Test setup for quite a while, Ashwin came in on the basis of his impressive consistent performances in the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) backed by his good first-class record. The two needed to perform in this series to book a seat on the flight to Australia.

 

Both displayed incredible control and deception on numerous occasions throughout the series. Ojha’s left-arm orthodox is in the classical mould and it combined well with the modern variety of Ashwin. Ojha was brilliant with his flight and he purchased good turn from the surfaces. On the other hand, Ashwin’s combination of carom balls and the conventional off- spinners spun a web around the West Indies. One can say that the two are certain to be a part of India’s squad for the Test series Down Under.

 

The last time India toured Australia, they picked a 16 member squad comprising seven batsmen, five fast bowlers, two spinners and two wicket-keepers. This formula seems to be the best for that tour as it provides the right balance for the Australian conditions. Thus, with just two spots available to the spinners, Harbhajan doesn’t seem to be a contender for a berth in the team. Off the two, only one would be used in most matches except Sydney where one can expect both tweakers being drafted in.

 

A couple of days back, Ravi Shastri backed the inclusion of the “Turbanator” for the tour of Australia as he boasts of a very good record against the Aussies and has the “ability to get under their skins.” Harbhajan may have experience, but his current form and performances does nothing to stake his claims. He may have done well against the said opposition in the past or may have the ability to “get under their skins”, but what’s critical is current form and ability to pick up wickets.

 

Making a spot for Harbhajan in the squad of 16 would spoil the balance of the unit. None of the seven batsmen or five fast bowlers can be sacrificed for an experienced but out-of-form off-spinner. It would just limit the options for the team management in those departments. Furthermore, Mahendra Singh Dhoni needs a back-up wicketkeeper as an emergency replacement cannot be flow to Australia in quick time.

 

Coming to the spin bowling, it would be unfair to drop either of Ashwin or Ojha as the two have done very well against the West Indies series and merit a place in the side. Harbhajan hasn’t performed in domestic cricket so far. How can he knock off somebody who is doing well at the highest level? India have a third spinner Rahul Sharma in their squad for the Tests against West Indies. It is clear that he would be ahead of Harbhajan in the preferences when the selectors sit to pick the team simply because he was in the squad ahead of the off-spinner.

 

Despite Harbhajan’s non-performance in first-class cricket, Shastri continues to back him by saying, “He hasn’t set domestic cricket on fire, but how many spinners do?” If only he had looked into the latest records, he would have discovered a certain KP Appanna, a left-arm spinner from Karnataka leading the charts with 17 wickets. Piyush Chawla (11) and Iqbal Abdullah (10) are the other prominent tweakers who have picked more than 10 wickets. Where does Harbhajan stand with two wickets in three games when compared to these bowlers who if one may say “have set the world on fire”?

 

Furthermore, Harbhajan may have a fantastic record against Australia, but on further statistical autopsy, one discovers that it is based on a brilliant performance in home conditions.

 

Here are his relevant numbers.

 

M

Wkts

Avg

5WI

10WM

Inngs best

Match best

Overall

16

90

29.35

7

3

8-84

15-217

In India

12

81

24.48

7

3

8-84

15-217

In Australia

4

9

73.22

0

0

3-101

4-200

 

The argument of him having a good record against Australia loses steam when one looks at his numbers away from favorable home conditions. They hardly inspire any confidence and when they are brought in perspective with his recent performances in domestic cricket and the other arguments mentioned above, Harbhajan doesn’t even come close to deserving a berth in the squad for Australia.

 

Harbhajan may have the experience, but his stats since the Galle Test against Sri Lanka in July 2010 have been nothing short of sub-standard. It was only his reputation that saved him but the England nightmare saw the coup de grace. Performance and consistency is what one expects from players at the top level and those who display those trends remain there. For now, Ashwin and Ojha would run the show and have cut out Harbhajan’s chances of a comeback for the Australia series. He might return at some point in the future but not Down Under.

 

Apart from the spin bowling, the other departments also look set and ready for the challenge. Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Virat Kohli are the certainties in the batting with Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane vying for the seventh spot. If fit, Zaheer Khan should return to lead a pace attack which in all likelihood would comprise Praveen Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Varun Aaron. Wriddhiman Saha and Parthiv Patel would compete to become the understudy to Dhoni.

 

The Indian team is more or less set and the only interesting choices would be for the two open spots!

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)