|Player:||A Kumble, Harbhajan Singh|
DateLine: 18th July 2006
In my last column I touched upon the two rather seamy aspects of an otherwise triumphant Test series in the West Indies. One was the treatment meted out to Irfan Pathan who was played in only one of the four Tests and the other was the mishandling of Harbhajan Singh who was a member of the playing eleven in only the last two matches.
Having analyzed Pathan’s case I felt I should also elaborate on the issue of Harbhajan. The highly competitive and skilful sardar has been a regular in the Indian squad ever since his dramatic exploits against the Australians in 2001. So much so that more often than not when only one spinner has been played he has got the nod over Anil Kumble - a perfectly reasonable selection keeping in mind his rising stature, excellent record and the youth factor. There is little doubt however that they bowl well in tandem and I for one have always been an advocate of fielding two spinners and maintaining India’s traditional strength. On almost any surface anywhere in the world it is smart policy to field two pacemen and two spinners for a balanced attack. Of course the nod could be given to three seam bowlers if the five-bowler policy is put into practice.
In the West Indies in particular the fielding of two spin bowlers should be imperative. History tells us in the most emphatic manner that Indian spinners have had an excellent record in the West Indies ever since Subash Gupte took 27 wickets in five Tests in the 1953 series – the first time an Indian team played in the Caribbean. Gupte followed this up with 22 more in the home series in 1958-59 and since then the tradition has been continued with bowlers like Salim Durrani, BS Chandrasekhar, S Venkatraghavan, EAS Prasanna, BS Bedi, Kumble and Harbhajan being the main wicket takers. One recalls how in the 1989 series Arshad Ayub, no one’s idea of a great spin bowler, had two five-wicket hauls in four Tests. The peerless Kapil Dev is the only Indian paceman who has a really impressive record in the Caribbean.
Given this background one cannot comprehend the tour management going in for three seam bowlers and only one recognized spinner in the first two Tests of the recently concluded series. Even Brian Lara has gone on record as saying that if Harbhajan had played in the second Test the Indians probably would have won. And given the fact that the West Indies just about scraped through in the first Test with their last pair having to play out 19 deliveries to salvage an unsatisfactory draw the off spinner could well have delivered the knock out blow in this game too. If anything Harbhajan underlined the folly of not playing him in the first two Tests by his stellar performances in the last two, culminating in a principal role in the triumph at Kingston.
Kumble of course has been the Indian kingpin for almost a decade and a half but in his own way over the last five years Harbhajan has not been a whit behind. The fact remains that Harbhajan’s record compares favourably with Kumble since the two became the country’s spin duo in 2001. It was an injury to the senior man – an injury serious enough to keep him out of international cricket for a year – that saw Harbhajan get his big break which he pounced upon so dramatically. At the start of the 2000-2001 season Kumble had already bagged 276 wickets in 61 Tests at an average of exactly 28 and a strike rate of 69. By comparison Harbhajan had much more modest figures at this stage of his career – 21 wickets from eight Tests at an average of 38.5 and a strike rate of 81.6.
Then came the magical series against Australia. Soon afterwards Kumble joined Harbhajan and since 2001 their figures make for very interesting reading. Both have played 49 Tests and whereas the younger man has picked up 217 wickets at an average of 29.02 and at a strike rate of 61.97 his senior partner has taken 257 wickets at 29.57 apiece and at a strike rate of 61.38. Really little to choose between them and if anything the figures offer conclusive evidence that they should always be played together. The selectors have been criticized in the past for dropping Kumble and playing only Harbhajan. They now invite wrath for dropping Harbhajan and playing only Kumble. The point to note is that neither should be omitted and the duo should be an integral part of the attack as I said on almost any surface anywhere in the world.
(Article: Copyright © 2006 CricketArchive)