Friday, November 19, 2010

Shut Up and Bowl

I'm going to come straight to the point before getting into the details. Harbhajan Singh has got to go. Not permanently, as every cricketer deserves to come back if he shows that he's improved, but atleast for the time being.

I haven't read anything from the men who matter about Harbhajan's prolonged run of poor bowling.  Maybe they're unaware of it. Maybe they don't have enough faith in the alternate options. Afterall, neither Ojha nor Mishra has performed much better than Harbhajan. What's more, they don't make Ravi Shastri make outrageous claims about them being allrounders.

But how is it that no one has picked up on Harbhajan blaming everyone but himself everytime he doesn't perform? A few years ago he had a problem with the Kookaburra ball. He made no secret of the fact that he didn't like the ball as its seam wasn't as prominent as that of the SG ball and that it went flat very quickly. It was never a problem for Murali or Warne. Even Vettori seemed to do okay with that ball and he played his home games on pitches that weren't necessarily suited to his bowling.

One could give Harbhajan the benefit of doubt here as he was still new to test cricket and didn't get to practise with the Kookaburra enough as more often than not Kumble was India's pick for the lone spinner in away tests since his brilliant performance Down Under in 2003-04. Over the years though, Harbhajan has played tests in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Australia and the West Indies. He has also played a lot of limited overs cricket around the world so one would think he would have learnt to use the Kookaburra better. If he has he's surely done a great job of hiding it, for his test record in these countries is very mediocre.

He's done well in New Zealand and the West Indies but struggled elsewhere. It's hard to say he's suffered because of the ball or that he's adjusted to it.

So what about his performances at home with the SG ball that he seemed to like so much? They're nothing to write home about either. An average of over 35 with a strike rate of 76.5 would be unacceptable for the lead spinner of an attack that has thrived on spin in Indian conditions.

It is all the more disappointing considering he averaged a little less than 24 and had a strike rate of just 55 until the end of 2005. The last 5 years should have been a period in which he graduated to the status of a world class spinner who took wickets in all conditions. Instead, he's been reduced to making excuses for his performance by blaming the groundsman. It's interesting that while he says critics think he bowls well only when he takes wickets, his opinion of the pitch itself changed based on the number of wickets he took on it, as just 5 days before his criticism of the pitch he was quite happy about it after taking 4 wickets on that day. And I'm not even getting into the fact that he took the last 4 wickets to fall in the New Zealand innings after Zaheer Khan had struck the telling blows by getting 4 of their top 6 (Oh wait, I just did).

Daniel Vettori, on the other hand, has 11 wickets in the series and has had to bowl at the stronger batting lineup than the one Harbhajan has bowled to. He also has to lead his side unlike Harbhajan who is utterly incapable of even leading his team's bowling attack. Vettori has quietly gone about strangling the Indian batsmen even when the pitch hasn't offered much turn or uneven bounce. He's kept Sehwag quiet by the batsman's free scoring standards and really tested Tendulkar in the first test by conceding just 7 runs off the 65 deliveries he bowled to him. It might have had a role to play in Tendulkar stepping out to him and losing his wicket on Day 3 of the second test as Kartikeya suggests. Unlike Harbhajan, Vettori has used his experience to his advantage instead of being stuck on the condition of the pitch.

The team management has stuck by Harbhajan through his worst times as a cricketer when he was accused of racially abusing Andrew Symonds. A lot of people, some credible and some not so much, backed him as they believed his version of the story. They have also backed him despite 5 years of performances ranging from average to downright pathetic. Yet, he's shown no sign of even admitting that he needs to improve. It's about time Dhoni or Tendulkar told him to Just Shut Up and Bowl.


  1. Seems to be a lost cause, man..
    the people who matter, still jerk off to the 2001 season..
    hard to believe, no one bothers to even read up his stats for the past couple of years.

    May be i should hire a henchman to take his ass down. Dialing agent cricket minded

  2. So what's the alternative? Throw in Mishra, Ojha, Ashwin, Chawla and hope and pray they deliver? India is sticking with him not because his numbers are impressive but because there is no alternative.

    the real blame for not being ahead in this series should go to the batsmen. On allegedly "flat" pitches we were bowled out in Ahemedabad and 316-8 at Hyderabad before Harbie bailed us out.

    Harbie is not at his best but right now there is no alternative.

    But I am not sure what you are saying through this post. Looks like you want India to stick wit him but just wish he shuts up and stops giving excuses.

  3. Gol, I'd rather give them a chance to develop instead of persisting with Harbhajan. I don't think the captain is picking him because there is no alternative. He's come out and said Harbhajan is his strike bowler while Ojha's job is to hold one end up. Clearly he thinks Harbhajan is an attacking bowler inspite of a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

    I'm not criticising Harbhajan based on this series. As you can see, the stats I've quoted are from the last 5 years. We can discuss the series in one of my previous posts.

    Personally, I don't want India to stick with him although I'd never suggest he should be shunned permanently. We know he can bowl. But we also know he's not going to be dropped so in that case I'd much rather have him shut his mouth and focus on taking wickets. Isn't that the best way to make his case for being in the side?

  4. Mahek, Firstly there is no denying Harbie is going through a rough patch. Secondly I am not going to debate on what is said by players in press conferences. Its all useless and politically correct. Its not as if the BCCI believes in transparency. So what do you want Dhoni to say...that "I am concerned with Harbie's decline as a bowler and I am looking for a replacement?"... Come on you know the price of saying the truth.

    I think Harbie need some rest. He will come back a better bowler. Not drop him and hope he will fight back like with Sehwag...but a proactive mutually understood break from cricket which is used to get back to peak fitness.

    He has the potential to retire with 600+ wickets and he will

  5. In any case what makes you think Ojha as a strike bowler is a bette option

  6. I think you're being too easy on him, Gol. Five years is not a rough patch. It's a full-fledged problem. And it's not just in tests that he's been a terrible bowler. The sad part is he always has an excuse for not taking wickets and not just in tests.

    You can choose to not debate on what is said in press conferences. However, it is the only source of information we have since we're not privy to what happens in the dressing room. If indeed there is a price of saying the truth then we can say goodbye to being a truly great team because we're allowing the media to influence selection.

    Sure, maybe he just needs some rest. But didn't he get some rest when the board sent a second string side to Zimbabwe? He also got some rest before the IPL when he didn't play the ODI series against South Africa. If I remember correctly he didn't play the tri-series in Sri Lanka and was rested for the ODI series against Australia.

    But let's go with the rest angle and see if he comes back a better bowler. I don't have high hopes of it because he was dropped after the 2007 World Cup and brought back without having played domestic cricket. He had a horrible series against Pakistan and Down Under but if you were to ask him he'd probably blame it on someone else too. Afterall that's all he's done through his career. Never has he said he needs to perform better than he is.

    Coming to Ojha, I don't agree with Dhoni's strategy to not use Ojha's ability to beat the batsman in the air, and I know he has that ability because I've seen enough of him over the past 2 years. He should be our first choice spinner in all formats but he won't be. I'm sorry but if 5 years of throwing darts hasn't convinced people that Harbhajan doesn't want to improve then nothing will. We can also kiss the World Cup goodbye because Dhoni and Harbhajan will happily concede singles in the middle overs and the opposition batsmen will tee off at the death knowing they have 7-8 wickets in hand.

  7. Look man, you are willing to bet on an unproven horse and I see nothing wrong in backing a proven performer.

    Just because we are not privy to what happens in the dressing room, does not give us the right to assume that something illogical is talked about.

    Again, I am not going to argue with the numbers. They are what they are. Tell me which Indian spinner has matched even Harbie's reduced numbers? Or you think all of them were under instructions to just "bottle one end up" and not take wickets.

    Even Kumble went through a multi-year lean patch. We later found out he had a torn rotator. He took almost a year off and got his second wind. I am suspecting something similar is wrong with Harbie. The qualities he has, the skill he one had are too valuable to just discard. Ojha, Mishra and co....haven't proven a bloody thing yet to be challenging a proven match winner like Harbie...

  8. It's hard to back a proven performer when he hasn't performed for 5 years. And how is a player supposed to prove himself unless he's given the chance to? It takes the selectors only a handful of tests before dropping a new player while Harbhajan can happily continue to be a mediocre bowler.

    I'm sure the team management discusses a lot of cricket. However, I don't see the logic in persisting with someone who blames others for his bad performances instead of doing something to show signs of improvement.

    How is another spinner supposed to match up to his numbers when he's dropped after a couple of bad games? And in Ojha's case the captain himself has said he expects Ojha to just bottle one end up, so how do you expect him to take wickets if his captain doesn't want him to bowl to take wickets?

    Kumble never went more than 2 consecutive years with a 30+ average. I think he had surgery in early 2001 and he averaged 19, 27 and 32 in the 3 years before that. So it's not like playing with a tear affected his numbers.

    You might suspect something similar is wrong with Harbhajan but since we haven't heard anything about it we can only speculate. Besides, surely he hasn't been playing hurt for the last 5 years. That's a bloody long time. The qualities and skills you're talking about haven't been on show for that long now. It's just sad that people point fingers at Ojha and Mishra and say they haven't proven anything even though they haven't been given enough opportunities to do so. This while Harbhajan has the support of all and sundry based on his "matchwinning" performances on dustbowls more than 5 years ago. I guess it's understandable in a way. People continue to have faith in Dravid inspite of him being in such a rut. We just can't let go of the past.

  9. Everyone gets one or 2 games to prove themselves. Its not like Ojha and Mishara are being singled out. This is the Indian cricket team. Not a socialist welfare program. Yes, its unfair, its harsh but it ought to be that way. All you get is a game or two. Harbhajan is the best spinner in India today that is why he gets selected.

  10. I don't think he is the best spinner in India today. Maybe he was a few years ago, not anymore. It's a socialist welfare program for him and it's been on for almost 5 years now.

  11. Don't think we are going to agree on this one :-) Lets hope we win @ Nagpur.

  12. Nice read! I've always felt he struggles with consistency even when he was at his peak. And I have to say I'm disappointed with the development of Ojha & Mishra too, particularly the former who lacks the skill & gile to outfox the batsman.

    Chawla did alot better than Ojha in LOIs, what is he doing these days?

  13. knowledge_eater4:18 PM

    Hello, Sportoholic Great Mahekoholic. Haha jokes.

    I had been stalking your tweets for few months now, you have really vast knowledge of not only cricket but other sports as well.

    I don't have any problem with your arguments on him being one of the biggest ..... in the team, and may be very whiny cricketer. For that you are right, he needs to shut up and bowl.

    But, let me try to stick with your analysis, between 2005-2010 Bhajji took 169 wickets, with 8 (fifer) and 2 (tener), which is higher than all Indian bowlers. So, despite what ever the pitch, wherever we played he has taken that much of wickets. He has bowled highest number of balls, highest number of maidens, and almost lowest economy despite bowling highest number of overs.

    And forget this analysis, how many times he has taken wickets which helped India win series thats what it matters right!

    Please have a look at this and tell me, did he do that bad even in last 5 years so he needs to be dropped!! I haven't watched those matches, but I have clicked on few matches where he has taken enough wicket ergo we won test match.;spanmax1=16+Nov+2010;spanmin1=27+Feb+2001;spanval1=span;team=6;template=results;type=allround;view=series

    Forgive my ignorance, but I think in test, we still need him, in ODI I am not too sure anymore(but he did hit a 6 in Asia cup), but in test I think we need him. And about Kookabora SG and Duke, I think you can write a blog about it, since I think SG and Duke are more bowler friendly, may be !!

    Thank You.

  14. Welcome to the blog, Knowledge_Eater

    You kind of proved my point by saying he's bowled the most number of overs in the period you've mentioned.

    Just to illustrate my point, is Graham Gooch a better batsman than Don Bradman just because he scored more runs in his career? Obviously not, as it's intuitive that the more you play the more runs you make/wickets you take. Harbhajan has more wickets than any other Indian bowler because he's played more matches than any of his teammates. If you're looking for the leader of the attack it's Zaheer Khan. Compare their respective average and strike rate since the start of 2006.

  15. knowledge_eater11:08 AM

    What happened to my comment! I don't have energy to retype the whole thing, but I don't agree that he bowled terrible for whole 5 years, and I don't agree with your example as well.


  16. Knowledge_Eater

    The previous comment showed up in my inbox but it's not here for some reason. I'm posting it verbatim:

    But then India always played with 2nd spinner, never played with lone Harbhajan! Then, how come he is still in highest number of wickets. Just look at that did those wickets made India win ? I can argue the same way the reason why he couldn't take wickets because Zak is finally found new form and taking more wickets.

    He took 19 wickets against SA(india became number 1 at that time), 16 against lanka, 16 against NZ, 13 against lanka, 11 against Australia, all those are recent match winning matches.

    Is Bevan better batsman than Lara because he has higher average than him?

    I think you are confusing him with ODI performance, in test matches, I don't think he has done that bad, so he needs to be dropped. If you say last year, then yes, he haven't done enough. May be an injury in Lanka! May be he needs rest. But if you even take an account for whole 5 years, he hasn't been bad.

    Anyway, he doesn't do anything in SA, may be he needs to be dropped, but I reckon if its green top we won't even need him to take wickets.


  17. To respond to your comment, India doesn't always play two spinners. Harbhajan was the lone spinner in New Zealand, wasn't he? Besides, the second spinner hasn't been the same throughout. Earlier it was Kumble (Well Harbhajan was the 2nd spinner) and since then it's been Ojha or Mishra.

    I don't know why you have to mention his returns against each side, it would be a lot more enlightening if those stats included his average and strike rate. We might have won a lot of those matches but it wasn't just because of Harbhajan (Or any other individual for that matter). I think he had a good series in New Zealand, the other series weren't that great.

    Bevan doesn't have a better average than Lara in tests, does he? We're talking about test cricket here.

    I'm not confusing his test performance with his ODI struggles. As you can see, the stats I've mentioned are only from test cricket. Obviously he hasn't been continuously bad for 5 years, he's had the odd good series like the one in New Zealand. But such performances have been few and far between.

  18. Hello Mahek I wish you Happy New Year and all the best for your plans! :)