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By Gulu Ezekiel
It is a pity Harbhajan Singh had to spoil the mood of the party after India’s last-gasp win in the Kolkata Test against South Africa last week.
It was silly on his part to lambaste the entire media for a satirical depiction that appeared on a Hindi TV news channel that no one should take seriously in any case.
After being an international player for the last 12 years and now approaching his 30th birthday, it is time the off spinner shed his ‘angry young man’ persona and learned to act his age.
Harbhajan never fails to acknowledge the positive role Anil Kumble played and continues to play in his career. Yet the younger man has failed to imbibe even a drop of the dignity and good grace Kumble displayed over nearly two decades of representing the country.
Despite being India’s greatest match winning bowler of all time, Kumble felt under-appreciated at times. But he never displayed any bitterness towards his critics.
Harbhajan on the other hand has continued taking on coaches, the media, opponents and even his own teammates—the notorious Sreesanth slapping affair of 2008—and this has hardly endeared him to cricket fans around the world despite his sterling bowling feats over the years.
There is no escaping facts and figures and in this regard it is undeniable that Harbhajan has failed to step into Kumble’s shoes as the team’s senior spin bowler. Indeed, his record over the last four years has shown a considerable dip in performance compared to his earlier feats.
While his fighting qualities have often helped dig India out of a hole as it did at Eden Gardens, too often he has let his temper get the better of him.
In American cop parlance, Harbhajan has a rap sheet as long as his arm. And yet it was the ICC’s blunder, deliberate or otherwise, which helped him escape a lengthy ban two years ago after his contretemps with Andrew Symonds in Sydney.
The rights and wrongs of that case can be argued ad nauseum but the damage it did to India-Australia ties is still being felt at the highest levels.
His comments after skipping the Padma Shri awards investiture at Rashtrapati Bhavan last year left a bad taste in the mouth. In fact probably going by his disciplinary record, it was not the BCCI that put his name up for consideration as is the norm. He was directly nominated by Sports Minister MS Gill.
Harbhajan has always been prickly about criticism. Reportedly he calls up ex-players who comment adversely on his bowling on TV and bad-mouths them.
This not only shows bad manners but a streak of paranoia that is unhealthy in anyone, let alone a sportsperson. It is still not too late to shed this attitude as he surely has many years of quality cricket ahead of him.