Rohan Sharma examines the rise to prominence of Harbajhan Singh’s batting.
I can imagine when Harbhajan woke up on 85*during the 4th day of the 2nd test there was a sense of trepidation, an inkling if you will, of being on the threshold of achieving a rare feat in Test cricket. Harbhajan became the first number 8 to score consecutive tons and what an achievement this is for someone who is more closely associated with his doosra and spin bowling prowess. Has Bhajji unwillingly fulfilled the need for a genuine all-rounder in the Test side? Rahul Dravid would have you believe so, with his rather off-the-cuff remark about Harbhajan playing like he is the next Sir Garfield Sobers.
“Harbhajan is playing like he is the next Sir Garfield Sobers” – Rahul ‘the wall’ Dravid
Taking a look at his career Harbhajan, until only very recently, was much more of a cameo player who chipped in with vital runs through aggression and inventive stroke play. His first true claim to becoming an all-rounder prospect was in the infamous Indian tour of Australia in 2007-2008. While this series will long be etched in our minds for his scuffle with Andrew Symonds that stemmed much diplomatic tension between the two nations, it was here where Harbhajan would score 63 in both the Sydney and Adelaide tests.
His efforts here are significant when one observes the relative context of the series and how it proved to be a turning point in the fortunes of both teams involved. It was at this time when Australia had begun to transition from the all-conquering unit they had maintained for so long through the retirements of many vital players a la Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Damien Martyn, Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer, and soon to follow Matthew Hayden. Conversely India had begun to gain confidence in their ability to play successfully away from home and laid the very foundation for the recent success they have enjoyed in this arena.
Harbhajan has a love affair for the antipodes in which he has amassed the most runs against. He is a remarkably clean striker of the ball when on song and has been pushed by some of the greats in the game to explore his batting further. He is a very popular figure within the team and this was ably demonstrated by the excitement and jubilation his team mates exuded at reacting to his first hundred.
So what has changed for Bhajji in recent times? Of late his shot selection has improved vastly and he has shown increasing patience to play the long game. By playing the long game his batting senses and concentration are beginning to work at levels not breached before and as a result such an exercise can only provide continued improvement as he begins to come to grips with his batting and the level he is willing to take it to. There is certainly a lot of natural ability inherent within him to achieve such success on a regular basis.
He has ample resources around him in arguably the great batting line up in the history of Test cricket. The likes of Sachin, Sehwag, Laxman, Gambhir and Dravid provide vast reservoirs of experience and knowledge. If India is to secure an all rounder then Harbhajan can be used as a prototype. With Irfan Pathan seemingly on the very fringes of the team and with Ravindra Jadeja’s recent failings in the shorter format, Harbhajan finds himself in an inimitable position. While he has contributed heavily through his bowling, Harbhajan has a unique opportunity to cement himself in a rare class of cricketing personage.
While it is early days the environment and resources around provide a great platform for him to grow into the role. His twin hundreds, while ultimately contributing to stalemates, have highlighted the mindset and patience required to build such innings. If he is to continue in this vein, there is little to stop his progression into becoming that much needed balancing figure within the team. The rest of India will watch with bated breath as to which Harbhajan turns up in South Africa.
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