Harbhajan Singh: Spinners need better pitches in domestic cricket

The India off-spinner says spinners need to be nurtured well to flourish and points at the need to provide better pitches in domestic cricket.

Harbhajan Singh felt the backing he received from Sourav Ganguly at a crucial juncture in his career, in 2001, gave him the impetus for a successful journey.   -  FILE PHOTO/G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR

In order to sustain India’s spin riches, budding spinners need to be provided better pitches in domestic cricket,Harbhajan Singh has said.

Commenting on the nature of pitches in domestic cricket among a variety of other topics in an Instagram Live session with Sportstar, the 39-year-old Harbhajan said the need to keep a particular amount of grass on the pitch can be inhibiting for a spinner wanting to take wickets. “I wouldn’t say there aren’t any spinners in the domestic circuit, but a few things have changed,” Harbhajan said.

“Now they have started leaving grass on the wickets; eight mm grass is mandatory. The first day is good for the fast bowlers, but after three days, it becomes a paradise for batsmen. Spinners’ deliveries don’t spin or kick. It would be natural for spinners to get demotivated if that’s the case,” he said.

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“Wickets need to change, they should be good for everyone. Now, you’re taking spinners away from the game. They are there but aren’t providing the results. Yes, they will learn how to bowl in different sorts of wickets but some help should be there, maybe on Day Three or Day Four, to keep them motivated, to keep them in the game.”

Ganguly's support

Looking back upon his career, Harbhajan felt the backing he received from Sourav Ganguly at a crucial juncture in his career – in 2001 - gave him the impetus for a successful career with the Indian team. In the three-Test series against Australia that year, he ended up taking 32 wickets and was adjudged the player of the series. “If Ganguly hadn’t supported me then, I may not have been able to take [more than] 400 Test wickets,” he said.

“If there are a few selectors who don’t want to pick you, you need backing from a strong player or a strong coach. I was lucky that at that time, they supported my talent. It’s God’s grace that I was able to win such a big series for my team,” he said.

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Harbhajan revealed his focus had been just to keep landing the ball at a right spot on the pitch. “I was too young to understand field positions, all I could understand was where to pitch the ball. If a particular batsman was playing in a particular way, how do I stop him from scoring runs? I knew I had to be tight; ek jagah pe lagatar ball dalna hai. Field positions were all Ganguly’s domain; I didn’t tell him what field I wanted, whether I needed a backward short-leg or a silly point or a leg slip. I worried only about my bowling; Ganguly took care of fielding matters,” he said.

 

'Greatest match-winner'

With Anil Kumble, who did not play that series due to injury, Harbhajan had a thriving alliance. He called Kumble the greatest match-winner India had ever produced.  “In my view, Anil bhai  was the greatest ever who played for India. He’s probably the greatest match-winner India has ever produced. People used to say he didn’t spin the ball, but he showed that if you had the heart, you could get batsmen out regardless of whether the ball spun or not. If anyone has half the competitiveness Anil bhai  had, he would become a champion. I’m lucky to have played with him for so many years. He was an unbelievably committed player,” he said.

Harbhajan said Steve Waugh was the toughest batsman he had bowled to, and revealed Waugh had been a bit of a role model for him. “He would always try to win and never give up,” he said.

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Harbhajan picked Kolkata’s Eden Gardens, where he picked a famous Test hat-trick against Australia, as his favourite cricket venue. He has six five-wicket hauls there, in seven Tests, including a best of 7 for 87 against South Africa in 2004. “I’ve always enjoyed playing in Calcutta. Very special ground. I have an emotional touch with Eden Gardens. It didn’t matter whether I was in form; it mattered that I was going to Calcutta, and if I went there, I would be in form,” he said.

Harbhajan Singh was instrumental in India's come-from-behind win against Australia at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 2001.   -  V. V. KRISHNAN

 

Harbhajan paid tribute to the Indian soldiers who were martyred in the recent clashes with the Chinese army at the Line of Actual Control. “There is a lot of uncertainty in the borders, and anything can happen. We only remember them when we’re in trouble, but not when everything is fine with our lives. But soldiers would be braving the cold weather of Siachen just to try to keep us safe,” he said.

“We don’t need just a day or two of sympathy. If we have to stand with them, we need to go visit their homes and enquire about their well-being. If we call them brothers, we become their brothers.”

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