Harbhajan Singh © Getty Images
Harbhajan Singh will be making his Test comeback after last playing in 2013 © Getty Images

By Veturi Srivatsa

Why has Harbhajan Singh’s return to India’s Test squad after two years led to such hairsplitting arguments? Theories abound, some even propounded his selection a conspiracy following the regime change in the Indian cricket board. Some others see it a pure and simple ‘Thank you’ with one last Test to help him call it a day.

Harbhajan has thrashed at least one theory, the golden-handshake. At 34, he thinks he still has four-five years of cricket left in him, and in all formats at that. Good for his confidence.

It was chief selector Sandeep Patil who triggered the debate with his clever explanation on Harbhajan’s selection. Good, the new dispensation in the board has decided to allow media interaction after the selection committee meeting. Secretary Anurag Thakur fielded some questions to give Patil some breather to compose his thoughts. A welcome departure from the past when any talk with the media by anyone connected with the board was frowned upon. Even the great men of Indian cricket preferred to be treated like bonded labour. READ: Harbhajan Singh makes Test comeback

Patil predictably stated that two off-spinners were needed seeing six left-handers in the Bangladesh batting order. The operative part of his remark was that it was “discussed with the captain.”

He went on to clarify that Harbhajan was not an automatic, write a few others were also discussed and the “captain felt this was the right choice for this particular tour.” One can draw one’s own conclusions, but it would be interesting to know what the selectors thought of Parvez Rasool as an understudy. The moot point is will both the Ashwin and Harbhajan be playing the eleven? When did we last wee two front-ranked finger spinners playing for India in a Test?

It is not as if Harbhajan has exploded on domestic scene with some extraordinary performance to merit a recall for the lone Test from June 7-10. If anything, he would not have qualified to be picked on the basis of his showing in any national level tournament in the last two years. But then the flip side of the argument will be that someone like Harbhajan has nothing to prove at the highest level. With 413 wickets in 101 Tests under his belt, everything stacked up there cereberally. Yet, he has to show some decent numbers in the wickets column whenever he bowls. Or, was he picked on the basis of his Indian Premier League (IPL) 2015 showing.

Conspiracy theory: It is unfair to both Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his successor Virat Kohli to accuse them of picking their favourites, the former captain his Chennai Super Kings teammate Ravindra Jadeja and now Kohli plumping for Harbhajan because of the proximity. READ: Harbhajan Singh does not need to prove anyone: Sunil Gavaskar

During his hey day, Harbhajan in Sourav Ganguly’s regime could do anything he wanted with his bowling arm and was unplayable on pitches at home. Like all successful off-spinners he was also troubled by those funny degrees of bent arm and was told to discard his doosra. Again, like the other illustrious bowlers of his tribe, he also struggled to get the rhythm back with the chief weapon out of his armoury. That affected his wicket-taking ability and he chose containment as a ploy, waiting for the batsmen to make mistakes. That didn’t work.

He played his last Test two years ago and since then he just played 11 first-class matches, three of those last season, bowling 284.1 overs for his 30 wickets at an average of 28.97 with a 56.83 strike rate. Not good at all.

Jadeja, too earned his spurs as a small time all-rounder when there were none to be found. For that matter Harbhajan and the No 1 offie today Ravichandran Ashwin proved better all-rounders than Jadeja. If Jadeja has two triple centuries in domestic cricket, Harbhajan and Ashwin have two Test hundreds each.

It would be grossly unkind to condemn Jadeja, who is brilliant in the field. He retained his position with some stunning work as a bowler in India’s victories, particularly in the series against Australia. Come to think of it, he dismissed Australia’s best batsman against spin, Michael Clarke five of the six times he batted.

Jadeja had an unbelievably great series with 24 wickets in the 4-0 series win against Australia at home. His bowling suffered in the run-up to and in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 because of a shoulder injury. Curiously, Harbhajan’s decline, too, started following an injury on the last tour to England. READ: Harbhajan Singh terms Test comeback ‘fresh beginning’

Patil clarified that performance and fitness were the only criteria in selecting the squad with no emotions attached. That is clearly evident with the selectors not making any large-scale tinkering. There was little scope, too with none of the stalwarts opting for or given rest despite living out of suitcases for a year.

A pat for the selectors for retaining leg-spinner Karn Sharma in the Test squad and left-arm Akshar Patel in the ODI and also Mohit Sharma and Dhawal Kulkarni, recognising their intrinsic worth.