A delectable 417 wickets in 103 Tests are figures anyone will happily settle for if given an option at the start of their career but Harbhajan Singh still has a couple of years left in him. He was recently selected for the opening Test at Galle where he was outclassed and outshined by fellow off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. Now with leggie Amit Mishra hitting a purple patch with the ball and bat, it seems the debate over the second spinner has come to a full stop. Ankit Banerjee reckons it is curtains for one of the best spinners cricket has seen. [Also Read: Poll: Is Ravichandran Ashwin the best Indian off-spin bowler ever?]

Who will forget a thin Harbhajan Singh rattling Steve Waugh’s Australian side, which undoubtedly is regarded as one of the best teams the game has seen. That the 20-year-old Sardar bamboozled them in 2001 will be an understatement. He had made Ricky Ponting his bunny dismissing him five times under 12. Bhajji, as he is dearly known also ran amok at Kolkata picking up a hat-trick on the final day and Australians were all at bay. [Also Read: Harbhajan Singh’s 13 magical spells in Tests]

To throw light on the other side of Harbhajan, who will forget the infamous ‘Monkeygate’, also starring Andrew Symonds? Bhajji has had many ups and downs in his career and has been an out and out match winner for his team on his day. Thanks to former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly, who stood by him at a time when the out of favour 20-year-old had planned to call it quits. So what is not working for the champion spinner that is making him look a total misfit in the Indian mix? [Also Read: Harbhajan Singh reveals how he has evolved as a human being during the time he was in the dumps]

Designed by Srushti Takale
Designed by Srushti Takale

A ball which requires a lot of revolutions with flight, so that as the batsman lunges forward, the ball then dips and sneaks through, that was his stalk delivery but his wicket taking ball was the one that climbs wickedly from a length, forcing a hurried jab, getting the close in fielders in play.

Harbhajan over the years has been studied and understood. He is somebody who thrives on confidence, if he smells or gets a taste of blood early on, he can be handful. Off late, because of a bruised and battered confidence he is shy to give the ball air and it is a thumb-rule to flight the ball for wickets and not just dart them. [Also Read: Harbhajan Singh: 11 unforgettable batting moments]

In the first Test at Galle, he was surprisingly not going for wickets and was playing the container’s role. That is not his game. Today, India have options for Ashwin’s partners. The rise of Mishra has been a boon. Then there is Amit Mishra. Then there is Ojha, who has over 100 Test wickets. Also waiting in the wings are spin-bowling all-rounders like Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel.

One of India’s leading match-winners in the previous decade began to look like a shadow of himself in 2011. With Ashwin’s growing stature in limited-overs and a dip in Harbhajan’s form, the latter was dropped from India’s Test team for home series against West Indies and the tour of Australia in the 2011-12 season. [Also Read: Harbhajan Singh: 11 controversies involving the ‘Turbanator’]

Harbhajan eventually made a return to the whites against England in 2012. In the next series, he became the 10th Indian to have played 100 Tests when he took field against Australia in Chennai in 2013. He did little of note in that series and waited another two years to wear his Test cap again.

The Test cap came again, and he owes a lot to captain Virat Kohli for that. He wanted an extra off-spinner against the left-hander dominated Bangladesh batting. Though Harbhajan was successful in the Indian Premier League (IPL), in First-Class cricket in recent times, it was clear that he had lost the zing to bowl in the longer format. No doubt about his skills and that still makes him a champion bowler in shorter formats. He can still run-in and bowl the four or 10 stipulated overs but in Tests, the curtains have almost fallen.

At 35, it is very unlikely that the Turbanator will get another look-in. So, the fact that floats up in cricket’s pristine format, ‘Is it time-up for Harbhajan?’

 

 

(A cricket geek to the tee, Ankit Banerjee smokes and snorts it all day long. The romance with the sport incepted since the 1996 World Cup semi-final. He is a winner of the 2011 edition of the All-India college cricket quiz.)