West Indian spin great Lance Gibbs is confident of Harbhajan Singh's resurgence, but the feisty offie has some work to do
The final Test against England at the Oval in August could have been Harbhajan Singh's 100th Test. For any cricketer, it would have been a dream come true and some of his closest friends and family members had their booking done for the memorable day.
Big below: Harbhajan Singh. Pic/AFP
However, the Punjab off-spinner was not that lucky to celebrate it. He was under pressure since the West Indies series in June-July and then injury in Trent Bridge denied him his much-awaited 100th Test in England. But, the real blow was yet to come.
His omission from the ODI squad for the first two ODIs against England has sparked off a fierce debate not only about his place in the team, but his pedigree as one of the best ever in the business. West Indian Lance Gibbs knows a thing or two about the struggles a spinner goes through. Gibbs, a Test off-spinner in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, became the first spinner to reach the 300-wicket mark in Tests during the West Indies' ill-fated tour of Australia in 1975-76. Gibbs did not call for Harbhajan's axing when this correspondent spoke to him a day before the selection in Florida. "He is relatively young, so he can continue since spin bowlers, like wine, mature with age," said Gibbs from Florida.
On India's 2006 tour of the Caribbean, Gibbs (77) worked with Harbhajan, who wanted to perfect the art of bowling the straighter one. The tall former great is positive of Harbhajan's resurgence, but put his finger on the problem alright. Said Gibbs: "He was brought up on helpful tracks, so when exposed to hard wickets, he struggles especially when batsmen have played against him before.
"This is where variations of pace flight and remembering strength and weaknesses in batsmen comes into play. If you look at his bowling today, there is not enough revolutions. With the amount of mediocre sides in cricket, he should be able to take over 600 Test wickets. The LBW laws have been changed so a batsman cannot kick the ball and get away with it like in my time."
Harbhajan's ouster is not shocking though. For the last three years in ODI cricket, the premier bowler of the team has taken just 64 wickets in 54 matches and that too with an economy rate of 4.72 against his overall career economy of 4.30. Gibbs' advice to the feisty offie is simple: "Practice -- especially bowling at a spot and hit it as often as possible. Do I have to come to India to show him?"