Harbhajan Singh may not have ran through sides since he last played a Test for India (vs England at Trent Bridge in 2011), but he figures prominently in the selectors’ plan for the forthcoming Test series against England.
And while leadership and off-spin will keep him busy in Punjab’s ongoing Ranji Trophy match against VVS Laxman’s Hyderabad in Mohali, he’ll have one ear on what transpires at today’s selection at the Cricket Centre in Mumbai.
Doubtless, Alastair Cook’s Englishmen will be interested in India’s selection too. Harbhajan has been an old foe, at times successful and tricky, but always prickly. He doesn’t quite pose the same kind of danger as he did in his first series against the Englishmen in 2001-02 when he claimed fifers in the Mohali and Ahmedabad Tests. A rather disappointing series in 2005-06 fetched him only eight wickets while his best effort in the 2008-09 series was four for 68 in the second Test at Mohali.
The 32-year-old spinner did not figure in Krishnamachari Srikkanth’s plans for the last two home Test series against West Indies (November 2011) and New Zealand last August.
Whether Harbhajan will be part of the playing XI in November 15’s opening Test at Motera, near Ahmedabad, is a big question. It will mean England have three specialist spinners to cope with in addition to Yuvraj Singh.
Four spinners in an XI may sound rich, but India have the depth in batting to hasten that decision.
Ajit Wadekar knows a thing or two about putting the opposition under stress via the turning ball. As a captain, he had the luxury of the famous spin quartet and when he became cricket manager, he was not coy to provide special emphasis on spin. He contributed in plotting England’s downfall in the 1992-93 series in India where Anil Kumble, Venkatapathy Raju and Rajesh Chauhan spun India to a 3-0 victory. According to Wadekar, it will be too much of a luxury to play two off-spinners in the XI. “Ashwin must be part of the XI. There’s left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha and I reckon a leg-spinner will be more useful. This will ensure variety which is what we went for in 1992-93,” said Wadekar.
Harbhajan has played 98 Tests and claimed 406 wickets. Forty three of them have come against England.