July 05 2020
Harbhajan axed: Star spinner at the crossroads
29 September 2011

NEW DELHI: There are two ways to look at Harbhajan Singh's exclusion from the first two ODIs against England. One is that after more than 13 years of top-flight cricket and a stellar career, he has given his all and the bag of tricks is empty. The opposition has worked him out, wickets are hard to come by, the unhelpful pitches compound the problem and it's time for India to look ahead.

The other is that Harbhajan is only 31 and this wake-up call will spur the fighter in him to stage a strong comeback, maybe in time for the Australia tour or later. After all, there is precedent in the form of Anil Kumble, who managed 270 wickets in his last 56 games following a lean patch. There are indications Harbhajan is making a strong attempt to reinvent himself and set new targets.

Either way, Bhajji's effectiveness - or the lack of it - has been the talking point for a while. Some eminent former players have questioned either his ability (Bishan Singh Bedi said he "lacks guile", a spinner's primary weapon) or his technique (Erapalli Prasanna recently questioned his basics. Anshuman Gaekwad feels Harbhajan has "virtually no follow-through and transfer of weight", which takes the zip out of his off-breaks). Most agree Harbhajan's decline has been gradual but opinion varies as to its cause.

Now, the selectors have served a reminder that the 'Turbanator' is not first among equals anymore. He managed only 13 wickets at 43.53 in five Tests in the West Indies and England but more than the lack of wickets, the trademark passion seemed to have deserted him. In the ODIs - the format from which he has been dropped, that too for a home series - he has performed better, though at nowhere near his best.

Recently, though, Harbhajan has been taking steps to recapture some semblance of form. The pre-Champions League camp for the Mumbai Indians, for example, saw him closeted with former left-arm spinner Maninder Singh. The emphasis was not on what Harbhajan was doing wrong but a reminder of his strengths and match-winning ability.

"Harbhajan is a player who thrives on rhythm and confidence and the sessions were basically a feel-good reminder of his capabilities," an Mumbai Indian source said, adding: "Maybe he had been anticipating this axe and is keen to get back to his enthusiastic best and set new targets for himself. He is working towards creating more chances for himself. The emphasis was on how to pick up wickets in the middle-overs in ODIs, which could benefit India."

The competition is not exactly snapping at Harbhajan's heels right now. Ravichandran Ashwin has a long way to go and Rahul Sharma has been plucked fresh from his T20 exploits. India may need Harbhajan's combative skills sooner than later.



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