Let's welcome Harbhajan's comeback, not question it
For a youngster, playing for India is a dream he grows up with and every time he listens to a former cricketing great, the one line he keeps hearing is 'you have to earn your India cap'. For a batsman it's by the weight of runs and for a bowler it's a bagful of wickets, all of this matched with consistency. So if making a debut is considered an individual's biggest test and challenge, then shouldn't it be the same for an Indian discard making a comeback into the Indian side?
To begin with, Harbhajan Singh may have earned his first Test cap but the out-of-form spinner did not earn his 100th, especially at the cost of an in-form Pragyan Ojha. Harbhajan's sliding transition from being a phenomenon to a puzzle has put a big question mark over his immediate future in international cricket.To put things in perspective - was Harbhajan's comeback a deserved selection? Did he force his way into the Indian side? Were there wickets galore to substantiate his inclusion? And was his inclusion in the Chennai Test justified? The obvious answer is a big NO.
So at 39, if Sachin Tendulkar can go back to domestic cricket to work on his batting (scoring Ranji and Irani Trophy centuries in the process) only to ensure he is not flustered by raw pace and movement, then why can't Harbhajan show an equal measure of effort and intent? The equivalent of a century to a bowler is a five-wicket hail. So if we judge a batsman's form by the centuries he scores (Gautam Gambhir, a case in point) then a leading spinner on comeback trail should shut critics like me up with at least a five-for. When was the last time Harbhajan took five wickets in an innings? Leave alone the international game, even in a domestic cricket for that matter?
I keep hearing that Harbhajan is a fighter, a feisty customer so much so that today he is fighting to keep his place in the squad. If he is a fighter, then why did he not storm into the Indian side with a bagful of wickets to show? Nevertheless, once he was selected, former greats backed his selection by arguimg that Harbhajan's record against Australia and his experience will be invaluable, and moreover Australia brings the best out of Harbhajan.
Bizarre! Let's be real; India cricket has lived way to much in the predictions of a crystal ball.
Recently, against England at home, Ojha and R Ashwin were the in-form first choice spinners while Harbhajan played as the third spinner in the side. So much so that Harbhajan was under-bowled, only to subsequently lose his place for the next Test. What happened in the interim? A reversal in priorities has seen Harbhajan play ahead of Ojha. At a time when Ojha was the most successful spinner against England and has been Dhoni's go-to bowler particularly with the new ball in Test matches.
Age constitutes experience and there may be no substitute to that, but if experience does not showcase responsibility, application and purpose (Harbhajan's cross-batted shot to Moises Henriques is a case in point), then inexperience with a sensible head (Bhuvneshwar Kumar's resilient 97-ball 38) might just be a better option. Keeping Ojha out was unfair. I only hope his confidence hasn't taken a hit. You can't leave out your in-form, performing specialist spinner only to accommodate experience on the basis of reputation and milestones.
Harbhajan's age-old problem of bowling flat, quick, middle-and-leg deliveries at an inconsistent length prompts one begging question. Why has he failed to bring in convention with consistency over a period of time? Is he spending long hours in the nets to perfect his length and is he really working on loop and trajectory? The picture on the field begs doesn't hold testimony to that.
Ashwin was a indifferent bowler against England and at Chennai against Australia he was a different bowler. That's because he in his own words admitted, realized and re-worked on his approach, skills, loop and length only to become more lethal. His 12-wicket haul is confirmation to it.
The conditions in Chennai presented a five-for opportunity for Harbhajan. The pitch made even part-timer Jadeja look menacing (wonder what would have been going through Ojha's mind). Sadly, Harbhajan's returns of three wickets compared to Ashwin's 12 and Jadeja's five magnify the struggles of a spinner who is far from being at his best.
Its tough being Harbhajan Singh right now. He appears low on confidence and conviction, confused and complex in equal measure. Wickets are his tonic for survival and success. He is lacking inspiration in the middle and what he displays comes across as desperation. This at a time when Dhoni has tried his best to make Harbhajan feel wanted.
What Harbhajan has failed to do is what Ashwin easily achieves. The weight of wickets serves as a bowler's biggest form of conviction and self-assurance. Wickets eluded him in his auditions as well in the arena. Reason enough for him to always oscillate in the conundrum of good and good enough. Whether he was rushed into his comeback in Test cricket or he rushed himself into it, sadly he was not allowed to make a strong and worthy comeback.
Let's allow Harbhajan to earn his place. Let's not regard one decent domestic performance as a comeback vehicle for Indian discards. Yuvraj Singh's double-century in the Duleep Trophy was his comeback innings, only for the selectors to send him back post the England Test series. Let a comeback be welcomed and not questioned.
More about Mikkhail Vaswani
Mikkhail Vaswani is a presenter on Neo Cricket and hosts 'Dial C for Cricket' and other shows on the channel. Prior to Neo, Mikkhail worked with NDTV, ZEE and Times Now. Along with his editorial and programming expertise, he also teaches in colleges as a guest faculty and has also hosted and moderated seminars in colleges as a motivational speaker.
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