Harbhajan reported for suspect action last year

Umpires reported India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh for suspect action during a pre-quarterfinal match between Punjab and Gujarat in Rajkot in November 2014.

India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh under scrutiny for illegal action.   -  AP

More than a year ago, the umpires and match referee officiating in an inter-zonal Vijay Hazare knockout match had reported a high-profile practitioner of off-spin bowling for suspect action to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). However, for some unexplained reasons, the matter did not make any headway.

It has now come to light that India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was the one reported by the umpires, Anil Chaudhary (an ICC International Panel Third Umpire) and K. Bharatan, after the Vijay Hazare pre-quarterfinal match between Punjab and Gujarat, played at the Madhavrao Scindia Stadium in Rajkot on November 19, 2014. The match referee, Chinmoy Sharma, submitted the report to the BCCI, a copy of which was given to the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) official, Bhupinder Singh.

The umpires stated in their report that the bowler (Harbhajan Singh), “While trying to bowl the faster delivery, straightened the elbow joint after reaching the shoulder height in his delivery swing.” The umpires cited the third ball of the 16th over and the fourth ball of the 20th over as suspect.

The experienced India off-spinner, who had staged a comeback to the Indian team recently, has continued to bowl in the BCCI domestic tournaments with the match officials scrutinising his action off and on.

After the Punjab versus Gujarat match in the Vijay Hazare tournament, Harbhajan had played in the quarterfinals (against Railways), semi-finals (against Odisha) and final (against Karnataka), and in these matches the umpires were A. Nand Kishore, Shavir Tarapore, Nitin Menon and Anil Chaudhary, and the match referees were Chinmoy Sharma and Pronob Roy. Since the Punjab team were given a copy of the match referee’s report, it can be assumed that Harbhajan was informed of the development. According to sources, the spinner was not reported in the next three matches.

A second reporting for suspect action would have automatically barred Harbhajan from bowling again unless he obtained clearance from Sri Ramachandra Medical College in Chennai, which is an ICC-accredited agency to test bowlers with suspect action.

Recently, the 16-year-old left-arm spinner from Mumbai, Sidak Singh, was reported twice during the Vinoo Mankad inter-zonal tournament for under-19 in Cuttack and West Zone could not field him in the last league match. He could not bowl the same ‘suspect action’ deliveries (the ones he bowled in Cuttack) at the SRMC because of which he has not been cleared. Sidak has to undergo further tests at the SRMC to be cleared before he could bowl again.

Sidak, incidentally, had a chance of making it to the Indian team for the ICC under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh next month; he has missed it now.

Harbhajan did not figure in the first couple of Ranji Trophy matches for Punjab in the 2014-15 season, but once he returned to the squad, he was under scrutiny in a few matches including the Punjab-Delhi game in Patiala, as by then word had gone around that the bowler had been reported for suspect action in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.

Harbhajan has played three Ranji Trophy matches in the ongoing season. He took 10 wickets in the match against Tamil Nadu in Dindigul and paved the way for Punjab’s victory.

It was around the same time last year that left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha went to the SRMC, rectified his faulty action and returned to play in the BCCI tournaments.

“In a match it’s the on-field umpires who tag the deliveries they construe as suspect, and report to the match referee. We go by the naked eye first and then report to the BCCI,” said a top-ranked umpire.