NEW DELHI (TIP): When Harbhajan Singh was included in the Indian team for the one-off Test against Bangladesh in June, national selector Sandeep Patil had stated that they felt a second offspinner was needed considering the Bangladesh batting line-up comprises six left-handers. Interestingly, he was not picked for the ODI leg of the tour as the selectors opted for Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel. The offspinner did a decent job in the one-off Test claiming three wickets for 75 runs and in the process surpassed Wasim Akram in the list of highest wicket-takers in Tests to take the ninth spot.
Most would have thought the one-off Test to be Harbhajan’s final hurrah at the international stage, but the selectors opted in favour of Bhajji once again, this time picking him in the depleted Indian team for the limited-over Zimbabwe tour. With Ravichandran Ashwin rested, Jadeja dropped and Karn Sharma injured, Harbhajan will most definitely feature in every game against Zimbabwe. At 35, this opportunity is a new lease of life for a flickering career for one of India’s most successful bowlers.
Harbhajan has been very vocal about his desire to don the Indian colours again and he has stated that he sees himself servicing his country for another five years. However, that desire was not seen in the domestic circuit, where Harbhajan played only three first-class matches in last season’s Ranji Trophy taking six wickets with a best of 3 for 51. But, he impressed in the Indian Premier League picking up 18 wickets in 15 matches for Mumbai Indians, which eventually led to his comeback in Bangladesh.
Harbhajan has not played an ODI since June, 2011 and with Jadeja’s stock dipping and Axar not able to impress much in the given opportunities; it looks like the selectors had no option but to go back to Harbhajan. India spin department has been quite thin for a long while and with Pragyan Ojha out of the selectors’ radar completely and Amit Mishra not putting any definite performances, Harbhajan finds himself in a happy position.
IPL 2015 was a second coming for Harbhajan as he bowled slower through the air and was willing to flight the ball, something he had failed to achieve since 2011. He got rich dividends for his new found form that could possibly extend his career for at least two more years, until the Indian domestic set up unearths a new talent.
India have been focussed on producing and nurturing fast bowlers and giving young bowlers a go for quite a while now, but getting Harbhajan in the mix of things does hint slight change in the mindset. Dhoni’s comments on identifying the type of fast bowlers the Indian team needs after the ODI series loss to Bangladesh was indicative of the changing thought process that they are done experimenting with rookies and are striving to get a settled bowling unit.
The Zimbabwe tour will most likely determine whether Harbhajan will accompany Ashwin as the second spinner for the tour of Sri Lanka due to start in August and subsequently the Australia series early next year. Karn Sharma had the golden opportunity to assert his bid for the second spinner’s slot, but untimely injury has pushed him back. Mishra too would have to put in a good show for India A in Australia to get himself in the reckoning. But until then, it is Harbhajan Singh’s time and he will aim to make the most of his second chance.