Category Archives: Harbhajan Singh

Harbhajan Singh Is Not An All-Rounder

Not to rain on Harbhajan Singh’s parade — this guy has just saved two Tests for India on the trot — but people need to stop calling him an all-rounder. Sure, the current evidence to the contrary — two fifties and a century — seems overwhelming, but it loses some force when you look at the actual video footage of the innings.

Take this last one in particular: Singh is just about all over the place. I counted at least five different times when the gap between where Harbahajan wanted the ball to go and where it ended was wider than the Pacific Ocean. He hit, he was lucky, and all to the good for the Indian team. But we’ve all seen plenty of innings from Singh where he immediately tries his hand and fails. (The law of averages confirms this; Singh scores 17 runs each innings on average.)

Now, Singh has an incredible eye and he has the strength to wallop things around. I’m just not sure about a) his temperament; b) his defensive skills; c) his ability to cope with short balls, true pace and really fast pitches. In the end, the most we can hope from this guy is 17 quick runs. That’s not too shabby, but it’s not Shaun Pollack or Freddie Flintoff either. I worry that selectors, looking at his failing bowling, will use his recent batting heroics as a crutch, which will inevitably land us in more trouble than it’s worth.

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India’s Survival Plan Against New Zealand

They’ve got to have one, right? The obvious hope is for V.V.S Laxman to yet again pull off a miraculous escape (either with Singh, Ohja, Sreesanth or Khan) and then leave too little time for the Kiwis to chase down whatever target is set.

That means: get past the first 30 overs to lunch; keep scoring (either through inevitable tail-ender hijinks or Laxman’s own fluency) and then pray for the best (170? 200?). (Pray, also, that the Kiwis will falter in their chase as they move from underdog to expected winner. Pressure works wonders.)

But, as hard as I try, I can’t fathom why we’re in this position at all (apart from the fickle wishes of the Test gods). Who the hell is Chris Martin? And did this pitch have anything to do with his (awesome) success, or was it a batting failure?

A lot has been said of India’s near-perfect record at home of late, but there have been noticeable cracks — too many of the recent games have been far closer than series results suggest, and I’m not sure why (a gap in concentration levels? Exhaustion? Complacency?).

At some point, we’ll have to address the team’s weaknesses: Harbhajan seems to be failing, with no spin successor in place; Gambhir’s form has fallen off, as has Dravid’s; our bowling attacks relies too heavily on Zaheer, who’s leading a weak pace attack.

But other than that, you know, India is No. 1. And they’ve won all their close shaves of late, so I’m rooting for them. But only just.

How Many Indian Cricket Players Are Jerks, Exactly?

Two interviews — with Venkatesh Prasad (former bowling coach) and Yuvraj Singh (former, uh, batsman) — offer hints into dressing room drama, and my long-held suspicion that cricketing fame is wasted on 20-somethings.

First, Prasad. The Cricinfo article makes for a depressing read:

During his India stint, he said, he found the bowlers’ work load in the nets to be inadequate. “I was very disappointed with the amount of bowling that was going in nets. And with the amount of training: they weren’t training hard, the bowlers weren’t pushing themselves.”

Bowlers – he did not name any – could not be pushed to put in more than 20 minutes in the India nets, and he said that, as a member of the support staff, he could not be after them every day. “I can’t keep saying, ‘Come on XYZ, whoever they may be, bowl for one hour.” He said he did so on many occasions but it wasn’t always appreciated. “It’s a thin line. There were lots of players who, when you told them something, didn’t like it.

Prasad only praises three bowlers explicitly — Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar and S. Sreesanth. One is on the perpetual edge of being dropped; one is a ODI specialist, and the other has a dodgy shoulder.

OK, but these are the bowlers, who don’t usually win India’s hearts and minds as much as the team’s batsmen. For that, we turn to Yuvraj, who sees himself as much wiser and older now that he’s been dropped, injured and out of form:

I see a lot of youngsters like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, who are very talented and flamboyant. As a senior I tell them not to make the same mistakes I made, and try to guide them to a better tomorrow…They don’t listen, especially Rohit and Virat. [Suresh] Raina still listens a little bit, but Rohit and Virat always argue with me.

This raises a bigger question: if you had to choose between an excellent batsman with a crappy attitude, or a capable batsman with the right one, which would you pick? And, secondly, why does India persist in selecting young ‘uns? Spending a few years in the wilderness — a la Gambhir — builds character.

Lay Off The Indian Bowlers Just A Little Bit

I noticed a full onslaught from my Twitter friends about India’s insipid bowling on Day 1 against the Sri Lankans. To which I offer this as a defense: 1) Yes, the bowling has been a tad “toothless,” as Cricinfo says, but it wasn’t the bowling attack we wanted. Zaheer Khan should have been there, but he’s not. Injuries take tolls.

2) Perhaps so, detractors may respond, but India should never be in a position to rely solely on one person. Hasn’t Ishant Sharma grown enough in the past few years that he could improve his seam position? Yes, but at the same time, we have to recognize the conditions these guys are bowling in. If India had won the toss, we’d likely be pleased as punch right now that the Sri Lankans were on the receiving end (and I have little doubt they would have been — though perhaps that’s just naivete). But this is how things work in Sri Lanka: the team that wins the toss bats first, takes advantage of a belter of a pitch, and then pressures the other team with 500+ runs in the board.

Again, I don’t like this bowling attack any more than the rest of you. Still, this is history we’re talking about — this is how it’s always been. So let’s just wait for that declaration, shall we?

Worried About India-Sri Lanka

There are a couple of storylines emerging from the sports journalists about the Sri Lanka-India Test series: 1) Murali’s final goodbye. 2) India’s bowling malaise. 3) Possible pitches that allow batsmen to go on and on.

And I’m really worried. If you give or take away certain Tests, I think you’ll find that most subcontinental Tests are extremely boring. The typical way to win is a) win toss; b) bat forever; c) use spinners and pressure and 7-2, or even 8-1, fields to stifle opposition. Repeat x2. That’s not nearly as much fun as the ebb-and-flow of English Tests, where the weather can determine if one team has been bowled out for 100 or not at all.

So, this could be boring. Even worse, it could be exciting — but bad for the Indian team. There’s nothing worse than the sight of a haggled Ishant Sharma, his badly lined teeth staring from his open mouth, as he trudges through the heat with his impossibly long run-up. If the ball doesn’t seam, and Harbhajan doesn’t grip, this could be a long week.

The Gambhir-Kamran Akmal Spat

Cricket Online, my still-favorite cricket highlights website (despite its new advertising blitz addition), just put up scenes from the emotional India-Pakistan encounter in the Asia Cup. I’ll reserve comment on Harbhajan and Shoaib, since both are incorrigible showmen most concerned with themselves.

But just a quick point about Gambhir and Akmal. Gambhir gets mad at the Pakistani wicketkeeper for appealing twice unsuccessfully (and loudly) for a behind-the-stumps catch. On both occasions, the appeal seems somewhat implausible — but that does not matter. Like lawyers, cricketers are allowed to make whatever argument they want to the presiding judge (in this case, the umpire) and let him decide the case. Now, ideally, you wouldn’t want cricketers appealing when they have conclusive evidence of a batsman’s innocence, but I submit it’s allowed, just as we don’t require batsmen to walk after they know they’re out.

To summarize: pipe down, Gambhir. I defended you when Albie Sachs penalized you and Shane Watson, but on this occasion, you went too far.

Quick Thoughts On That India-Pakistan Match

What a doozy! Amid all the talk of the death of the ODI, we have one of its finest examples: ebb and flow of the format, along with the suspense now expected in Twenty20s. But some more quick thoughts:

1. Remind me again what Saeed Ajmal is allowed to bowl — the doosra, or his normal off-cutter? Or is he allowed to bowl whatever he wants? I can never keep up with these spinners.

2. Shahid Afridi loves his hair. He loves being able to run his hand through it, again and again. Just thought I’d put that out there.

3. Speaking of people who could do with some more vanity, I give you Waqar Younis and his increasing girth. I don’t know if he thinks looking like a father figure will convince the young ‘uns to play nice, but the man needs to stay in shape. (If only because he can then pull a Gary Kirsten and yell at his wards for not being as fit as a 40-odd year old man.)

4. Harbhajan, Harbhajan, Harbhajan. If nothing else, the man has an impeccable sense of timing and destiny. I hate him. And love it.

India’s Rookie Mistakes

I don’t know why, but Zimbabwe has always had India’s number, especially when the South Asians are on tour. You can find the entire record on Cricinfo’s unbeatable statistics page, but they paint a depressing picture: the Zimbabweans twice beat India in Test matches (and won a series in 1998/1999). The ODI scorecard is more lopsided in India’s favor (39-10), but even as late as 2002, the Zimbabweans picked up victories.

What’s different here is that this Zimbabwe team is not the team of the 1990s, when the likes of the Flower brothers and Heath Streak prowled the field. Obviously, they’ve come a long way, and it’s heartening to think that all those years in non-Test wilderness have borne some fruit (if not proper cricketing equipment; Harbhajan Singh apparently had to donate kits after he saw what his counterparts were working with at the T20 World Cup).

But India has also been a tad hopeless. Suresh Raina can no longer be called a rookie, with nearly 100 matches under his belt. Still, in the first match against the Sri Lankans, he had to be reminded to tell the umpires he wanted to call the Powerplay after the first ten overs. This is how we breed talent in the Indian team: we get them young, out of the domestic leagues, and then ship them off to Australia or Zimbabwe to learn, sink-or-swim style. (We did the same in 2009, when a young Dhoni led an even younger team to victory against the Australians in the ODI series.)

So, don’t think of this series as India v. Zimbabwe. Think of it as another Ranji match; look at the youngsters learn. In any event, a few years from now, they’ll be gone too.

Harbhajan Singh’s Wicked Innings

Harbhajan Singh just scored 49 runs off 18 balls for the Mumbai Indians. If he had hit that last ball, he would have scored the fastest half-century for the IPL (if I’m to believe the breathless commentary). It was an absolute fluke, and something to behold on the computer screen, but I can’t stand it.

There are two main reasons not to like Harbhajan Singh: the first, he seems like a jerk. I defended him against racism charges during the Sydney affair with Andrew Symonds, but I thought he was obscene then and impolite now.

He’s a classic Indian bully, acting all tough by slapping Sreesanth, or glaring at a bowler who accidentally tossed a beamer (which he, um, ducked), or yelling like a mad man after a fielder threw the ball to the wrong end (watch the highlights of the match against Deccan Chargers. Once they’re at 70/4, you see the incident I’m talking about — there was no chance for a run-out, but Singh just felt the need to yell anyway). Or even running across the ground after dismissing a South African tail-ender in Kolkota.

The second reason? He’s really not that great a bowler. Yes, he has his moments; he always does. He’s a star-performer when he wants to be, but he hands out those performances stingily. You’ll go a whole stretch of Test matches waiting for the Turbanator to show up; when he finally does, we’re supposed to act as if Moses just delivered us to the Promised Land.

Sigh. But enjoy the innings anyway. There’s really no justice.

Shake Hands First, Harbhajan

I agree with Samir Chopra’s take on Harbhajan’s needlessly exaggerated celebrations after taking Morkel’s wicket. Watching the highlights, I got the feeling Sunil Gavaskar did as well — he kept urging the Indians (and, by extension, us) to “spare a thought” for Hashim Amla, the real hero of the day.

The cameras didn’t catch any handshakes with him specifically. That’s sad, because we remember 2005 Edgbaston as much for the game’s drama as for Andrew Flintoff comforting a distraught Kasprowicz¬†Lee. And, just in case you don’t, here it is: