Will county cricket help Harbhajan Singh resurrect his international career?

County cricket presents Harbhajan Singh a good opportunity to resurrect his career. He is at a stage in his career where is desperately seeking redemption and it is his reputation that has kept him alive © AFP

At the age of 32, the out of favour Harbhajan Singh is running out of time. However, a stint with English county Essex gives him a lifeline to resurrect his career. In 2007, a similar outing with Surrey benefited him tremendously. Zaheer Khan returned a much better bowler following a stint with Worcestershire in 2006. Nishad Pai Vaidya previews Harbhajan’s term with Essex for the 2012 county season.

 

 

The decline and fall of Harbhajan Singh is most astonishing and painful. A spinner who dominated batsmen by weaving webs with his deceptive spin morphed into a one-dimensional and containing bowler. In the aftermath of the disastrous tour to England in 2011, the selectors had enough of him and axed the “Turbanator” from the Indian side. Since then, he has been on a comeback trail – one that has been largely uneventful and possibly worse than the poor run that preceded his axing. A stint in county cricket with Essex gives him a much-needed lifeline. The question is: Will this be the turning point in Harbhajan’s flagging career?

 

Harbhajan has played county cricket in the past – with Surrey. He enjoyed a good outing for them during the 2005 and 2007 seasons. However, it was the during the 2007 season that he asserted his dominance and bowled good spells. It came at a time when Harbhajan found himself out of the Indian side following the shocking first round exit at the 2007 World Cup.

Harbhajan’s record in the 2007 season for Surrey:

 

M

 

Wkts

 

Avg

 

5WI

 

10WM

 

Inngs Best

 

First-class 6 37 18.54 3 1 6 /57
List-A 5 6 29.50 0 0 2 /34

 

 

On the back of this record, Harbhajan made a comeback into the Indian team during the memorable ICC World T20 2007 triumph in South Africa. In the years that followed, he cemented his place in the Indian team with a number of decisive spells in Test matches. The 2008-09 season was especially productive as he had successful tours to Sri Lanka and New Zealand and good home series’ against England and Australia.

 

However, the Galle Test against Sri Lanka in 2010 marked the beginning of an alarming slide. From that point onwards to his last Test against England at Nottingham, Harbhajan’s averaged over 40 and picked 51 wickets in 15 Tests. During that run, he accounted a solitary five-wicket haul and also reached the landmark of 400 Test wickets.

 

Injury put an end to Harbhajan’s tour to England and he seemed to get things right on comeback. He bowled well for the Mumbai Indians during the victorious Champions League T20 (CLT20) 2011 campaign and followed it up with an impressive outing in the Challenger Trophy. All that promise withered away as he hit another trough during the Ranji Trophy and was ignored for the Australia tour. The Indian Premier League (IPL) 2012 too wasn’t a very happy outing.

 

County cricket presents Harbhajan a good opportunity to resurrect his career. He is at a stage in his career where is desperately seeking redemption and it is his reputation that has kept him alive. It is time he lives up to the respect he has earned over the years and starts bowling well. The 2007 stint would serve as a good morale booster and motivate him to perform better.

 

The whole county experience has benefited a few Indian players in the past. Zaheer Khan, in particular, changed the course of his career during a prolific spell for Worcestershire in 2006. The scenario was similar to Harbhajan current fate as Zaheer found himself out of favour during the Greg Chappell era. The outing not only helped him regain his form, but also improved his fitness level.

 

On the county circuit, games are played in succession and it helps players achieve good match fitness. It isn’t gym work-outs or long runs, but game time that plays a big role. On international comeback, Zaheer looked much fitter and his bowling had rejuvenated. One can say that it was the turning point of his career as he has gone from strength to strength in the years that followed. His bowling became more dynamic and deceptive as he became a thinking customer.

 

Pragyan Ojha is another player who benefited tremendously from the county exposure. He turned up for Surrey during the 2011 season and made a huge impact. Incidentally, it coincided with India’s disastrous tour to England and Ojha was called up to replace Harbhajan after the second Test. After the Test series concluded, Ojha reported for county duties and performed brilliantly.

 

Bowling a number of overs may help Harbhajan get out of the rut. It seems as if the limited-overs formats have affected his bowling. The “Turbanator” has started bowling a lot flatter which has ensured the disappearance of the turn, the flight and the doosra. He tends to fire it into the blockhole far too often to become predictable. With a number of overs to bowl, Harbhajan would have to plan better and work his way across batsmen. Over the last year, there have been the odd occasions when he has given the ball air and looked a completely different bowler. The same has to be done on a regular basis and county cricket may be the starting point.

 

Back in 2007, Harbhajan was 27 years old and had a number of years ahead of him. Zaheer was the same age when he turned the tables. Harbhajan has just turned 32 and doesn’t have a lot of time. However, he can take inspiration from his illustrious former partner, Anil Kumble – who delivered some of his most memorable spells after the age of 33.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)