Where did things go wrong for Harbhajan Singh?

Blog by: Suhithkumar

Harbhajan Singh at practice

Harbhajan Singh at practice

Harbhajan Singh, ‘The Turbanator’ as he is called has been one of the great Indian cricketers in the last one and half decade. He has been a match-winner in his own right and his occasional batting exploits have made him one of the conspicuous cricketers to watch in world cricket.

Harbhajan, who made his test debut in 1998 as a lean off-spinner, grew in stature and became a reliable spinner during the ‘DADA era’. Sourav Ganguly, as the captain of the Indian team, knew how to utilize Harbhajan and that in turn augured well for the man from Jalandhar.

When you talk about Harbhajan Singh and the period when he really was at the pinnacle of his prowess, your mind goes back to the Border-Gavaskar trophy in 2001 where he made the likes of Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Damien Martyn look clueless in front of his mastery. Such was the quality of his bowling and he became the captain’s ‘Go to Man’.

Until 2004 and even in 2005, he continued his merry way of bagging important wickets and delivering match winning performances. It was certainly a joy to watch him and Anil Kumble bowl in tandem but then, cracks started appearing in his repertoire and he soon became the spinner who wasn’t causing any kind of problems to the batsmen.

So, what really went wrong for such a talented off-spinner? Personally, I’d say, he didn’t get the ball to turn sideways enough to keep the batsman guessing. And there came a stage when he tried to mix it up too much.

In a over, he’d invariably throw in a couple of ‘doosras’ and that took the bite out of his stock delivery which was the off-spinner. So, there was no surprise element left as far as the batsman was concerned. Also, there came a stage when he didn’t get the ball to skid off the surface after pitching so, the batsmen played him of the back-foot and were pretty successful at that.

By that time, T20 cricket kicked in to the cricketing calendar, Harbhajan started darting the ball in at a greater speed and his bowling was rather shambolic to watch. Though he grabbed the odd 5-for here and there, you couldn’t look at him and say, “I have got a spinner to bank on”.

The period between 2007 and 2011 was probably the lowest point in Harbhajan Singh’s career and him being left out of the setup looked inevitable.

Although Harbhajan Singh was the man to blame for dip in his bowling form, I thought, Dhoni had a part to play in it as well. It was true that Harbhajan didn’t pick wickets consistently and the batsmen around the world started smothering him rather easily. However, Dhoni started using him as a containing option where he’d be happy to see Harbhajan give away just 40-45 runs in his 10 over quota and the wickets he provided were taken as bonus.

Probably the most recent evidence of the humongous dip in his bowling was when England toured India in 2012. He played the 2nd Test match at the Wankhede which was highly conducive to his style of bowling with good bounce and zip off the track but he finished with match figures of 23-1-84-2 and wasn’t a part of Dhoni’s bowling changes.

The saddest thing for me is, Harbhajan, who once was termed to be Muralitharan’s competitor in terms of bargaining wickets by Muralitharan himself, has created a huge doubt as to whether he’ll play another game for India.

I like the way R. Ashwin is operating at the moment but Harbhajan Singh brings more to the table in terms of his tenacity and energetic demeanor. Hopefully, it’s not quite the end of the road for ‘The Turbanator’.

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