Off-spinner to half the spinner... In his last 14 Tests, Harbhajan has averaged almost ten points more than what he used to average prior to Galle Test in July 2010. In this period, he has played 14 Tests, picked up just one five-for and 50 wickets at 40.60 apiece. And those wickets have a very high percentage of lower-order batsmen © AFP
Off-spinner to half the spinner… In his last 14 Tests, Harbhajan has averaged almost ten points more than what he used to average prior to Galle Test in July 2010. In this period, he has played 14 Tests, picked up just one five-for and 50 wickets at 40.60 apiece. And those wickets have a very high percentage of lower-order batsmen © AFP

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

The year was 2001, when Team India scripted one of the most remarkable comebacks in Test cricket history. Australia toured India for a three-match Test series and were beaten 1-2 from a point where it looked like they would conquer their “final frontier.” A young off-spinner by the name Harbhajan Singh, was making a return to the Test squad after a gap of more than a year. His series tally of 32 wickets, coupled with VVS Laxman’s heroics with the bat, helped India beat Steve Waugh’s Australia to help usher in a new era in Indian cricket. India found a new hero and the fans felt that they could look beyond Anil Kumble for a world class spinner.

 

Ten years on, that same off-spinner has played more than 90 Test matches and has picked up more than 400 wickets. However, over the last one year his performances have gone down and he hasn’t shown the effectiveness that he displayed so consistently in his career. As one of the celebrated commentators might say “this man only looks like Harbhajan but doesn’t bowl anything like him.” The “Turbanator” has started bowling a lot flatter which has meant the turn, the flight and the doosra have all-together disappeared.

 

This article dwells deep into his performances over the last year to find out what has gone wrong.

 

Here are his Test match career stats to date:

 

T

 Wkts

    Avg

 5WI

  10WM

       Inngs
best

Match
best

97

  405

   32.13

     25

       5

         8-84

15-217

 

At a glance, one may say that these figures are pretty impressive and indicate the mark of a fantastic bowler. However, these numbers do not tell the entire story. They hide his performance over the last year which has been truly disappointing for a strike bowler. There is a massive downward slide in Harbhajan’s performance since the Galle Test against Sri Lanka in July 2010.

 

Here are his stats before and after the said Test match. These numbers do tell the real story and it does not paint a pretty picture:

 

T

Wkt

Avge

5WI

10WM

Inngs best            

Match best

Before Galle 2010

83

355

30.94

24

5

8/84

15/217

After Galle 2010

14*

50

40.60

1

0

7/120

7/195

 

*Including the Lord’s Test against England

 

In his last 14 Test matches, Harbhajan has averaged almost ten points more than what he used to average before the Galle Test match. As a result his overall career average has risen from 30.94 to 32.13. In this period he has picked up just one five-wicket haul which was against South Africa at Cape Town. Prior to Galle 2010, a five-wicket haul used to come at an interval of almost three Test matches. An average of 40.60 indicates that he is conceding far too many runs per wicket – not something one expects from a premier spinner.

 

An alarming fact about his bowling over the last year has been the high percentage of lower order batsmen he has been dismissing. There can be an odd series where the percentage of lower order dismissals is high, but to maintain it over a year is not a good sign for any bowler. Here is a series – excluding the ongoing England-India series-wise break-up of his dismissals to indicate the high percentage of lower-order wickets. For the purpose of this article, top order batsmen would constitute the top five of a batting line-up and the lower order shall constitute the rest. However, night-watchmen, irrespective of where they have batted have been considered to be a part of the lower order and the effective downward shift of the other batsmen in the batting order hasn’t been considered. These batsmen have been deemed to have batted at their original spots.

 

Here it is:

 

Versus

T

Wkts

No 1-5

No 6-11

%age of lower
order wkts

Sri Lanka

2

2

2

0

0%

Australia

2

11

6

5

45.45%

NZ

3

10

5

5*

50%

SA

3

15

8

7**

46.67%

WI

3

11

4

7

63.63%

 

*Gareth Hopkins walked in as night watchman in the third Test.

 

**Paul Harris was the night watchman in the third Test.

 

The worrying factor for India is that the percentage in question is consistently over the 45% mark and, in fact, hit 63 in the series against the West Indies. Thus, his isn’t very effective against the top-order batsmen. Mind you, the lower order batsmen include the tailenders as well. It is his fast spinners – if you may call them spin – that are getting them out, but aren’t any cause of worry to the top five.

 

India play with four specialist bowlers in their line-up. The fact that they lack a quality all-rounder puts even more responsibility on the four bowlers. Currently, Harbhajan’s performance is hurting team India as he isn’t picking up important wickets. This adds to the pressure on the likes of Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan. It is because of his ineffectiveness with the old ball, the fast bowlers have to pull a rabbit out of the hat. India can ill-afford a strike bowler who is consistent at being inconsistent. A strike bowler is in the side to pick up wickets and not just roll the arm over to fill in the overs.

 

People may argue that he has 400 wickets to his name, but the bowler who has 400 wickets today and the one who had 355 wickets a year ago are two different players. The missing player has to return or the so-called “spinner” has to be replaced.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-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.”)