Senior off-spinner Harbhajan Singh feels captain Virat Kohli and chief coach Anil Kumble have got a chance to usher in a new era where Indian cricket teams will not require “rank turners” to win matches as the long-used tactic is beginning to boomerang on the side.
With India starting their long home season of 13 Tests with a three-match series against New Zealand, the ‘Turbanator’ opined that designer pitches could backfire on the team.
“Over past four-five years, the previous team managements preferred pitches where Test matches would end inside three days. But I believe both Anil bhai and Virat are positive people, who would like play on good Test pitches, where the results are decided on fourth evening or by fifth day post lunch session,” Harbhajan told PTI in an interaction.
“We should look at the bigger picture. Are we gaining anything by winning inside two and half to three days? Are we also being fair to our batsmen who struggled against South African spinners during last home series?” India’s third highest wicket-taker asked some serious questions.
“Why do we call it Test cricket? Because it tests your skill from Day 1 to Day 5 at every level. It should give everyone a fair chance to succeed at that level.
“Save the last Test match at Kotla, where Ajinkya (Rahane) batted exceptionally and Virat got runs, our batsmen
also suffered. I can tell you if we go for rank turners, it can boomerang on us like World T20 in Nagpur. Mitch Santner and Ish Sodhi could prove to be a handful.
“But if we can produce sporting pitch where our batsmen can score 400 runs if batting first, New Zealand can’t beat us. Man to man, we are a better unit. Even if we prepare sporting tracks, we can win 3-0,” the 36-year-old said.
For Harbhajan, rank turners is of no good use to Indian spinners also.
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“Fine you can get wickets but there are times when the bowler doesn’t even know that where the ball will land and which direction it goes. You don’t know which one would turn and which one would jump. That’s why I am stressing on good pitches where skill comes into play,” said the owner of 700 plus international wickets across three formats.
“People criticise Ishant for having played nearly 70 Test matches (69 Tests) with barely 200 plus (202) wickets. But has anyone cared to find out how many overs Ishant had bowled in India? And how many overs with new ball and how many with old one which reverses?
“And why Ishant has not bowled much is because of having such wickets where you need spin in first hour. If he doesn’t get to bowl with the new ball when the seam is hard and new, then we are being unfair to Ishant, who is such a workhorse.
“If we can make a statement of intent in this series, it will only help us when we travel abroad next time,” said Kumble’s longest serving spin partner.
Asked if he had any advice for Ravichandran Ashwin, Harbhajan said: “I don’t think Ashwin needs my advice. I wish him all the luck and hopefully he continues to be outstanding like he has been in past one year.”
However, Harbhajan believes that Amit Mishra shouldn’t be judged by his Duleep Trophy performance.
“Look at the runs being scored in Duleep Trophy. Mishra is a good bowler and I don’t think being slow through the air should be a problem.
“If you observe, Mishra bowled on first two days when the pitch was at its flattest best and that too against Pujara and Gambhir. Agreed that Jadeja bowled better but he bowled on third, fourth and fifth days when the pitch had wear and tear.”
Harbhajan wants spinners to challenge themselves on fourth and fifth day pitches where teams press for wins.
“The length that you bowl on first day’s final session is different from length that you bowl between lunch and tea on fourth day. Similarly if the batsman is not able to read my doosra, I will continue bowling that. But if he is reading me well, my thinking needs to change.”
Although he didn’t comment on whether four or five bowler theory should be used , Harbhajan’s parting shot was: “One should always play their four best bowlers and fifth bowler should be someone who can give you 8-10 overs.”