The Great Harbhajan Singh?
Well, I have to admit that the header isn’t quite appropriate here and renders something more than what actually is there in reality.
However, don’t you think that it has been the case with Harbhajan Singh’s career for that matter? Statistics are like miniskirts, they reveal more than what they hide, said Navjot Singh Sidhu, but in the recent past, Bhajji’s statistics have hidden more than what they could have actually revealed.
When the off-spinner got one to turn in from just outside off and cramped Carlton Baugh for room eventually losing his stumps, the Turbanator reached a rare landmark which only one of his own species had earlier achieved. Harbhajan joined the legend Muttiah Muralitharan as only other off-spinner to rack up 400 Test wickets.
And when such milestones are accomplished, everyone is tempted to throw in the fancy word; Great. So, has Singh attained the status of greatness?
Of the 10 leading wicket takers in Test who all precede Harbhajan, according to statistics they all have a better average, better strike rate and better economy rate than Harbhajan. Going down the list, six bowlers ranked below Bhajji in wickets tally also surprisingly have better averages and striker rates than our very own tweaker.
These stats clearly do not undermine Harbhajan, the master bowler who bamboozled the likes of Australia and other major teams when they were at their peak.
However, there has been a dip in the offie’s performance for sure. In the series against West Indies, he managed only eleven wickets. Not a dismal show by any means but when you are the senior-most bowler in the squad and that too on West Indian pitches getting the opportunity to bowl on 5th day tracks against a susceptible batting line-up, one would expect you to do a tad better.
With 96 Tests under his belt, he is, undoubtedly one of the best spinners from the spinner abandoned Indian cricket. But would he be able to break into the league of Bishen Singh Bedi, BS Chandrasekhar, EAS Prasanna and S. Venkataraghavan or Anil Kumble? He might even surpass them!!! I haven’t seen many of these ‘greats’ play, but their records and achievements speak for themselves. There was always an air of mysticism related to these players on whatever I read about them. But somehow that is not associated with Bhajji, probably because the level and the amount of criticisms the latter had to undergo.
Also, Harbhajan’s role as a bowler in a successful Indian campaign in the recent past has not been a major one. The famed spin quadrate at that time accounted for nearly 60 per cent of the wickets to fall. I know this is an unfair comparison but as it may stand, 3 tweakers out of the spin quadrate have better career averages than Bhajji.
Yet, the reason why Harbhajan is rated so highly is not only because of his superior talent and supreme skill of F&G - flight and guile, but also due to his character as a relentless fighter.
More importantly, he is a big match player. Cometh the hour, cometh the man would fit him perfectly. The Border Gavaskar series are a proof of that.
Nonetheless, Bhajji has attested his place and looking from the young crop of offies or for that matter any kind of spinners on show in the Indian domestic circuit, he would go on for quite a long time. The only worry for me, he might go under the radar unnoticed.
His real test so as to speak would be the England series. Not because of the pitch or conditions but the test would be from a fellow off spinner, a certain Graeme Swann, who is indisputably the best off-spinner at this point of time.
Harbhajan’s disappointing performances with the ball have not been scrutinized much, but when he would be pitted against Swann the pore over would be very detailed indeed.
Harbhajan as a player has added tremendous value to the team particularly with the bat recently and to call him a talisman at such instances might not be completely wrong. Howbeit, if I may give my opinion, his every evolving batting prowess won’t make him any better bowler than he is now.
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