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`I am moving towards my best'

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DOUGHTY WARRIOR: Harbhajan says it is not easy being a spinner in the modern era, with the heavy bats floating around.
DOUGHTY WARRIOR: Harbhajan says it is not easy being a spinner in the modern era, with the heavy bats floating around.

S. Dinakar

Anil Kumble will add a lot to the side in the ODIs too, says Haribhajan

  • 'The feel of the ball and rhythm are the most important aspects for a bowler'
  • The doosra remains a key weapon in his repertoire
  • The off-spinner's striking performances have been with the SG ball, which has a more pronounced seam

    Colombo: Harbhajan Singh still carries that maroon wallet. It's battered and torn, but it stays with him, reminding him of his humble beginning, his roots.

    The Sardar is a blithe spirit, a man of sunshine and laughter. His cheerful exterior conceals the pain within.

    "In this country, they run you down when you have an off-day. When you do well they say, `I told him this, I taught him to be so,'" he told The Hindu here on Monday.

    Harbhajan says he has now stopped listening to experts. "I have my group of friends who are honest about my bowling. Eventually, I know my bowling best. I know what has made me successful."

    And with 238 wickets in 57 Tests at an average of 29.86 and 154 scalps in 130 ODIs at an economy rate of 4.11, he has been successful.

    Resolve strengthened

    The years of struggle, questions over his action and worrying injuries proved roadblocks, have strengthened his resolve. His good friend and off-spinning mate, Sri Lankan wizard Muttiah Muralitharan, seldom fails to make a mention of Harbhajan's abilities the two are often inseparables when their sides meet.

    Says Harbhajan, "We are not machines. We cannot churn out wickets every day. There will be times when you search for form."

    Despite not being at his best, Harbhajan's economy rate of 3.91 in the five ODIs in West Indies was commendable. "I even bowled during the power play overs, but kept the run-rate down."

    He had a rather mixed Test series, but the 26-year-old Harbhajan claims he is gradually moving towards his best.

    Scope to do better

    There are accomplished former cricketers, though, who believe Harbhajan can improve. Points out former Australian spinner and, now Sri Lanka Cricket's spin bowling consultant, Ashley Mallett, "I don't think Harbhajan has realised his full potential."

    Probe him further and he travels back to Harbhajan's destructive bowling in the 2001 series against Australia in India. "They were not picking his length. Rather Harbhajan was mixing up his length very well. He was varying his pace cleverly. The Aussies were going forward to deliveries they should have played back and vice-versa," reveals Mallet.

    The Aussie says Harbhajan is not making the batsmen "play above the eye level," as much as he needed too. In other words, he is not flighting the ball enough. "You see when a batsman starts playing you below the eye level, he is more in control," Mallett adds.

    Harbhajan disagrees, both with Mallett's remarks, and suggestions from other former spinners that he should be slower through the air. "I don't think I need to do all that. The area I feel I was better in 2001 was my consistent line outside the off-stump. I am working towards that now."

    Bad dream

    Ask him about the difficulties he has encountered with his action and he replies, "It was like a bad dream." The doosra has remained a key weapon in his repertoire, he maintains.

    The "feel of the ball" and "rhythm" are the most important aspects for a bowler, he says.

    The talk, predictably, veers towards the different kinds of ball SG and Kookaburra. The off-spinner's striking performances have been with the SG ball, which has a more pronounced seam. "Over the years, I have done well with the Kookaburra ball also. In Kookaburra, the seam virtually disappears after 40 to 50 overs and you grip the ball differently. But it depends on what you are used to. Muralitharan told me that he was happier with Kookaburra since he had bowled more with that ball."

    Harbhajan concedes it is not easy being a spinner in the modern era, with the heavy bats floating around, and the ball becoming wet during the latter stages of a day-night game. "With a wet ball, you just stick to the basics, land it in the right spot."

    He is convinced that Anil Kumble will add a lot to the side in the ODIs too. "He guides you and his very presence is inspirational."

    The man who can smile through adversity says, "My best days are ahead."

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