With 11 wickets in 12 games so far, IPL 7 may not be Harbhajan Singh’s greatest season, wicket-wise. But on another parameter of success, economy rate, the off-spinner has plenty to be proud of. While he may be a good nine scalps shy of Sunil Narine’s bulging figure of 20 wickets (the best in the IPL so far), Harbhajan’s economy rate is just 0.08 runs/over worse than Narine’s round 6.00.
This difference in their economy rates also is largely due to Bhajji’s relatively expensive performance against Delhi Daredevils on Friday (1/30 in four overs), where he went for 7.50 runs/over, mainly due to the 14 runs hit off his bowling by JP Duminy and Manoj Tiwary in his final over.
But little surprise here as Harbhajan has been economical for a while now, beginning with the domestic one-dayers and T20s earlier this year. This he has managed with the adjustments he has made of late, such as cutting the hop from the run-up, reducing its length and gaining a fraction of a second more to observe the batsman’s late movement.
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In the matches where he has conceded less than 20 runs in his four overs, Bhajji has mixed up his variations rather well. Even on Friday, he had conceded just nine from his first two overs. And the way he dismissed Kevin Pietersen was an example of how he used different speeds to keep the batsman from gaining any rhythm, frustrating him. Finally, KP was forced to go for the reverse slog and perished.
On the other hand, in his very expensive final over, Bhajji bowled only one quicker one. The lack of variation suited Duminy and Tiwary well, who punished him for it. But this, asking him to bowl faster more often, must be great news for the off-spinner, considering that he was dropped from international cricket for his lack of flight and turn.
Gone are the days when Harbhajan only hurls it in at 100 odd kmph in short-format cricket. He seems to have found new faith in his old weapons (loop and bounce) and they are now reaping his rich rewards. Hours of practice in the nets and his rhythm has returned. And with his new run-up, he spots trouble early. On Friday, twice he caught Tiwary jumping out of his crease and twice he pushed him back defending.
Bhajji may not be taking wickets at will just yet, but he sure isn’t letting batsmen score runs freely of him. And that is a big first step on the long road back to the Indian team.
Siddhartha is a senior correspondent based in New Delhi.