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Harbhajan should emulate Prasanna
by Suresh Menon
Dec 25, 2007
In Australia, thanks to the focus on the batsmen, one player can work on getting the threads of his career together. Doing well is important for both Harbhajan Singh and Indian cricket. The offspinner had a forgettable home series against Pakistan.

For a period early in the decade, Harbhajan was the spearhead of the Indian spin attack, with Kumble nursing injuries. Australia gives him a chance to regain that spot. If he fails, India will have to start from scratch where spin is concerned. This is an aspect that hasn’t caught the public imagination in quite the manner the impending farewells of the great middle-order batting has. But it might be more significant.

Harbhajan’s recent over-reliance on the doosra combined with this refusal to flight the ball and use the angles suggest that it may have been a mistake to play him in the Twenty20 world championship. That format highlighted the worst in his bowling, and relative success there probably led him to assume that that was the way to go in the longer game too. He keeps his attacking instincts for batting, while getting progressively defensive in bowling.

His home-and-away record is skewered. He has 172 wickets from 34 matches at home at over five wickets per match. Outside India his 76 wickets have come at fewer than three per match, in 26 games.

Anil Kumble and he have together claimed 832 wickets (before the Australian tour). That is just 21 fewer than the legendary Spin Quartet of the 1970s, Prasanna, Bedi, Chandrasekhar and Venkatraghavan.

But we have to ask ourselves the question - is another era of spin coming to an end? Despite Kumble’s continuing brilliance the fact remains that he is 37. Spinners traditionally both mature late and continue for long. Kumble hit his stride from his first over in international cricket, and from then on it has merely been a question of fine tuning - adding a different googly, working at slightly different angles and so on. He is the master of centimetres and small degrees of the arc, and continues to shock a new generation of batsmen who think he can be played like an off spinner and discover too late that the old fox is rather more complex than that.

Harbhajan, India’s most successful off spinner, must now reconcile himself to the thought that he will never be spoken of in the same breath as Prasanna. He has one trick in his bag that Prasanna didn’t - the doosra, but fewer variations and a less cunning brain. During the Pakistan series, he seemed to have leveled off at a particularly galling level of mediocrity, doing just enough to keep their places in the team.

Australia will provide one element that the home series didn’t - bounce. On his last tour there, Harbhajan finished with one wicket for 169 runs, disappointing for a man who had claimed over 50 wickets again them in six Tests at home.

He is 27; at that age Prasanna was emerging as one of the greatest of his kind, with 49 wickets in eight Tests in Australia and New Zealand and another 46 in eight when those teams played in India. It would be a shame if Harbhajan were to remain satisfied with his current record, and not explore the limits of the possible.

 
More Views by Suresh Menon
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