Harbhajan “¦is probably one of the most criticized bowlers in the world © Getty Images
Harbhajan “¦is probably one of the most criticized bowlers in the world © Getty Images

 

By Christopher Poshin David

 

Harbhajan Singh, who recently became the 11th man in history of Tests to take 400 wickets, is probably one of the most criticized bowlers in the world. The public accepted Shane Warne’s behavior and controversies because of his genius on the field. But Harbhajan, who also has his fair share of controversies, has a question mark against his name and his ability with the ball.

 

The world is sharply divided about Harbhajan’s rating as a spinner. Half the world is convinced that he is an exceptional spinner but one who hasn’t travelled the distance from being a good bower to a great bowler. The other half dismisses such claims saying that Harbhajan is a decent spinner who does well at home where the pitches suit him.

 

I believe Harbhajan is one of the premier spinners in modern cricket. Of the spinners currently playing international cricket, I would rate only Daniel Vettori above Harbhajan. Even Graeme Swann, who has been exceptional for England, ranks below Harbhajan Singh in my book. I’ve never seen anyone else who can spin the ball as much as Harbhajan does, except for Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne. In fact, John Wright once remarked that Harbhajan can turn an onion on ice!

 

Harbhajan has all the weapons off-spinners needs in their armoury. He flights the ball well, allows it to dip quite steeply and then spins off the pitch. He manages to extract bounce from the flattest of pitches and along with his variations. Armed with subtle variations of over spin, side spin and top spin, he is a master in the art of spin. However, his recent preference for the top spin over the doosra confounds me. I always thought he had a good doosra, and felt that it would yield him the most wickets even if it wasn’t his favorite delivery.

 

If anyone doubts his skill, they just need to see the 2001 India vs Australia series in which he became an overnight star. However, ever since that dream start, his career has been one of highs and lows. Harbhajan has managed to trouble the best with his flight, dip and spin but has often has found himself struggling for wickets. From January 2006 till February 2007, he managed to pick up only 37 wickets at an average of 52 in 13 matches. It was during this phase that he went wicketless in a series for the first and only time in his career. But he came back strongly in 2008 picking up 63 wickets in 13 matches. Since then, he has done a decent job with 144 scalps to his name.

 

Muralitharan went on record to say that Harbhajan could break his record of 800 Test wickets. That seems a little far fetched considering that Harbhajan is 31, but the point is Murali rated Harbhajan so highly.

 

Harbhajan is a rhythm bowler, who is a different when he manages to pick up a wicket early in his spell. When he does get a wicket early, he looks a totally different bowler. He bowls much slower, tosses the ball up and imparts greater revolutions on the ball. He becomes a very big threat. But that aura of invincibility disappears when he fails to get an early breakthrough. He then tends to fire the ball in rather than tossing it up and, hence, gets very little turn.

 

There is a general perception that Harbhajan does not do well overseas. An average of 28 at home against an average of 37 away is a pointer to such a belief. All his six man of the match awards have come at home, but who can forget his 7 for 120 at Cape Town last year against the South Africans in the second innings!

 

Scalping 400 wickets in Tests is no small achievement. It’s a monumental milestone. All of India would be hoping that he goes a long way in adding to that tally.

 

(Christopher Poshin David, aka ‘Poshin’, is a die-hard cricket fan from India. A student from Chennai, he is an aspiring journalist and the all-rounder India never wanted. He also writes for the Royal Challengers Bangalore website. His articles have been featured on the IPL website, ATYTY and Cricjoy)