Dominica draw rankles Harbhajan
Roseau: Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni might be content with it but off-spinner Harbhajan Singh finds it incomprehensible that West Indies managed to force a draw in the third and final Test.
"I took four but could have had six or seven. That`s fate," rued Harbhajan even as the two centurions, Kirk Edwards and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, acknowledged the perennial threat the off-spinner posed on a flat track.
Chanderpaul was twice dropped by Rahul Dravid in the slips and at least thrice Edwards popped chances to which the close-in cordon reacted late. India drew the final Test after deciding to abandon what looked like an exciting chase despite having seven wickets in hand to take the series 1-0.
A little luck would have been in complete conformity with Harbhajan`s rising graph on foreign pitches. Starting 2009, Harbhajan took 16 wickets from three Tests in New Zealand with the best of 6-63 in Hamilton and an average of 21.38.
Last year, he had 7 for 120 at Newlands against a formidable South African batting line-up. In all, he finished with 15 wickets at 29.60 from three Tests.
For all his criticism in the Caribbean, his figures of 11 wickets at 25.36 in a seamer-dominated series isn`t bad. For critics, it`s his average of 37.40 plus in 44 Tests for a haul of 146 wickets on foreign pitches which proves he is only good on helpful Indian pitches.
"It`s a strange logic, on one hand you blame our batsmen for thriving on flat sub-continent pitches. Yet, when I take wickets on those very flat pitches, nobody credits me," said Harbhajan.
It`s the same argument with which critics slammed Anil Kumble before the 2004 trip to Australia changed the perception. He too was deemed to flourish only on sub-continental pitches and nobody was yet willing to term him great before he started picking up wickets regularly abroad.
"I too have succumbed to this constant nonsense. I tried to bowl this classical loop, flighting it on the off-stump and trying to open up that gap between the bat and pad of a right-hander.”
"It was in the Centurion Test of the last series against South Africa. Batsmen could slog-sweep without worrying on LBW since their front foot was outside the off-stump. Even the off-side field was easily manipulated. Jacques Kallis got a double century. Hashim Amla could score at will.”
"I am thankful to what Ravi (Shastri) bhai then advised me. He asked me to look to bowl at the off-stump or the fourth stump, keep a widish mid-off and midwicket. If the batsmen tried to push it between bowler and mid-off, he could offer a return catch. If he tried to lap it on the onside, there was midwicket. The entire field could move with the batsman.”
"It worked brilliantly. I got 7 for 120 in the next Test. Amla, in both the remaining Tests."
Not easily remembered is his 4 for 10 from seven-odd overs in the Durban Test. It gave India levers of advantage in the game even after scoring 205 in the first innings. They ended up winning the Test.
"Classical spinners operated in eras when batsmen were not scooping, slogging or reverse sweeping. Today, hitting over the top is a norm. Bats are so much meatier. Teams don`t make 200 runs in a day any longer.”
"Another factor no longer remembered is that visiting batsmen are not afraid of spin in the sub-continent. They travel so much to our part of the world, be it as a member of the A teams; the ever-increasing number of series; the exposure in IPL. They are getting better at handling spin all the time."
Harbhajan concedes he could have got his 400 wickets in 85-86 Tests but for the two "black" years in 2006 and 2007 under the stewardship of Australian coach Greg Chappell.
"Those two years were terrible. I was never ever comfortable. You were made to feel you were no good; you constantly felt under surveillance."
For records sake, Harbhajan picked up 49 wickets from 14 Tests while Chappell was turning heat on his purge programs. It was much below his career average of four wickets per Test.
The spotlight is now firmly on the India-England series, starting in just over a week`s time with the first Test at Lord`s, the 2000th Test overall and the 100th between the two nations.
There is also a hyped up confrontation between Harbhajan and Graeme Swann for their different yet highly successful bowling styles.
"I find it strange that it`s me who has to prove against all new off-spinners when it should be the other way around. If lasting 13 years in international cricket was that easy, you would have had dozens and not a mere four spinners in the 400-plus list.”
"Having said that, it would of interest to me to see how Swann turns up against our batting greats."
And how he himself would bowl to the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman?
"They all are different. Against Sachin, I would like to plug his run-scoring areas -- the whip through onside; the paddle sweep, the late cut he imparts against full pitched deliveries. Fields for Dravid and Laxman would also be different."
Harbhajan then casts his mind at the England venues where four Tests between the two teams would be played, starting July 21.
"Lord`s can be flat; and so could be Oval. The latter, if it helps spinners, could be a difficult venue for the batters because of the bounce in the pitch. Nottingham usually provides early nip. It could have something for the bowlers even on the last day. I haven`t played a Test in Edgbaston (Birmingham) yet."
India have lost four of their five Tests in Edgbaston. However, they have won a Test each at Lord`s, Oval and Trent Bridge. Headingley is the only venue where India has won twice -- in 1986 and 2002.
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