Harbhajan Singh backs India to level series at Southampton
Harbhajan Singh has backed India to register another win at the Ageas Bowl (Getty Images)

India’s comprehensive 203-run win over England at Trent Bridge has opened avenues for the team to bounce back and square the series at Southampton, feels India offspinner Harbhajan Singh. A clinical India produced a magnificent comeback in the third Test after enduring defeats in the first two to stay alive in the tournament. And even as they trail 1-2 in the series, Harbhajan feels that with two matches to go, the ball is currently in the India’s court.

The fourth Test between India and England begins on August 30 at the Ageas Bowl.

“After such a performance, I back India to win the next Test in Southampton, and then anything can happen in the Oval Test. At the Oval, we could get a true Indian wicket with lot of bounce and lateral movement is less there as well,” Harbhajan told PTI. “So, conditions could favour India and we could even play two spinners. I think India have a very good chance (of winning the series 3-2).”

The fact England’s batting wasn’t up to the mark was another factor behind India’s win. In the first innings, from 54/0 they capitulated to 161 all out. In the second, they were reduced to 62/4 before Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes prolonged India’s wait for a wicket. According to Harbhajan, England’s batting line-up looks “weak and vulnerable”.

“The English batting line-up looks more problematic than the Indian batting at the moment. They are playing as if they are touring India, and not the other way around,” he said. “Their batting line-up is more vulnerable to both pace and spin, and they look weak. Some of their first-choice batsmen have an ordinary record in domestic cricket, averaging 30-35 at best.

“In India, you have to average over 50 to be even considered. They have good depth in ODI cricket but in Tests, their batting has not done much.”

Following India’s 31-run defeat at Edgbaston and another abject performance at Lord’s, the team received plenty of flak, that saw cricketing greats downplaying India’s team selection and lack of practice matches. Also, this wasn’t the first time that India have found themselves in troubled waters in England. The previous two tours are prime examples. In 2011, India were whitewashed 0-4 and four years later, lost the five-match series 1-3.

“It is not easy to come and play in England. You cannot say that previous Indian teams did better here. Apart from 2007, when did we last win a series in England? We tend to over-react easily and criticise too early,” Harbhajan, who has taken over 700 international wickets for India, pointed out.

“It takes time to get used to conditions in England. You can practice as much as you want but match conditions are different from nets. The Birmingham Test was so close, and if India had won there narrowly (instead of losing), we wouldn’t have had so much criticism and the series would currently be 2-1 to India instead.”

Of the many gains that India discovered, Hardik Pandya’s crucial five-wicket haul in the first innings was monumental. It was what changed the tide in India’s favour, securing the team a 168-run lead. Harbhajan, who was critical of Pandya’s role in the side after the second Test, praised the allrounder for his performance with the ball.

“Once you put runs on the board, you can see the difference. In one spell, Hardik Pandya changed the game, which is a great thing from India’s point of view,” Harbhajan said.

“India has a great bowling attack now, which they didn’t earlier. We had only Zaheer Khan and someone else trying to chip in, but now we have three good bowlers and now we also have a fourth in Pandya. In this match, he was matching up in terms of swing and pace to all other three pacers. It’s a blessing to have three-four proper pacers in the playing eleven, which has never happened before in the history of Indian cricket that I have played in or seen.”