Harbhajan Singh and Australia have a history.
It was Harbhajan Singh’s hattrick in Kolkata — which came before VVS Laxman’s 281 — that started the self-belief ride in that epic series between these two sides in 2001. Lest we forget, he hit the winning runs in that nail-biting and tense finish to the Chennai Test, which gave India the series victory in that 2001 series.
In 2007, it was his brilliance with the bat in the company of Sachin Tendulkar, and the later “Maan Ki” episode in Sydney that seemed to spur a somewhat insipid and weak Indian team that had capitulated in Melbourne. The team went on to record a phenomenal victory in Perth in another epic encounter between these two sides.
In 2008, India was down and almost out in Bangalore in the 1st Test of another epic series between the teams. Again, it was Harbhajan Singh (in the company of an unlikely hero in Zaheer Khan) who turned things around for India with the bat. It may have been almost impossible to conceieve an Indian series victory if India had lost in Bangalore and had the momentum shifted to Australia — although one never knows what may have happened, of course. However, that was a momentum changing innings from a man how loves to irritate the Australians.
Such moments can sometimes define a series — like Monty Panesar’s stubborn resistance did, at Cardiff, a few months back!
And much as Steve Waugh, that master of “mental disintegration”, allowed himself to be irritated by Sourav Ganguly’s “toss tactics”, the Australians — including their press — instead of ignoring Harbhajan Singh, fall prey to his antics every time.
In Vadodara, in the first match of the current 7-ODI series, India were almost down and out chasing a not-so-large total. A huge loss would have shifted the momentum completely Australia’s way. Instead we had a cheeky, pugnacious and gritty fight back from that man Harbhajan Singh (in the company of Praveen Kumar) that almost got India a victory!
I have no doubt that that innings changed the way India approached the 2nd match in Nagpur. Although some may point to a depleted Australian bowling attack, I do believe that India would have won even if Brett Lee had played. India played with purpose and determination not often seen by an up-and-down team.
One hopes that this momentum is taken into the remaining games too. However, much as I do not like his antics, one just cannot get over the fact that Harbhajan Singh rises to the occasion everytime he plays against Australia. They say that a great player is one that performs at his best against the best. Perhaps it is time for us to recognise — maybe even reluctantly — that Harbhajan Singh is up there after all?
In ODIs he has a batting average of 16.56 against Australia, when compared to a career average of 13.42, although his bowling stats against Australia is worse than his career average! His highest score while batting in ODIs is against Australia (the 49 he made last week at Vadodara). In Tests, his batting average against Australia is 21.83 when compared to a career average of 17.01. He bowls better against Australia too — 79 wickets at 28.82 as opposed to 300 career wickets at 30.42! His career high Test score of 66 is just 3 higher than his highest score against Australia (the 63 that he made in that “Maan Ki” Test in Sydney). His best Test bowling figures (8 for 84) is against Australia too — in that epic Test match in Chennai in 2001.
It is clear that Harbhajan Singh turns it on whenever he plays against Australia. More power to him.
If India play on the momentum secured thus far and if the team continues to show the passion and the focus that was on display in the 2nd ODI at Nagpur, I think it will be hard for Australia to come back into the series.
And for Australia to bounce back, skin will be important!
Yes! Someone from the Australian team must play out-of-their-skin cricket and the team must not allow Harbhajan Singh to get under their collective skins!
Ricky Ponting said yesterday that he is not a believer in momentum. He said, “I am not a big believer of momentum from game to game. Momentum is all that’s happening in a particular game. I don’t think much of it carries from game to game. I think many of the games that I have played in the past have changed too quickly to be attributed to momentum.”
I am now convinced that, unlike his efforts with the bat, Ricky Ponting is inconsistent with his mouth!
Here is a sample of what Ponting has said (or reported to have said) just in the last few months!
According to Mike Hussey (and he must be a dependable man as well as a reliable source), “Ricky’s been on our hammer already basically about trying to maintain our momentum.” He continued, “Momentum is not something you can turn on and off like a switch. If we can finish this series strongly, that will give us some good impetus going into the Champions Trophy…”
This was precisely 45 days ago. So what’s changed in the intervening period for Ricky Ponting to discard his “momentum theory”?
And some two and a half months back, after Australia’s win at Headingley against England, Ponting declared “The momentum [is] with us”. He went on to say, ”We all get asked about [momentum] after every game, especially in these series that seem to see-saw and swing from one side to the other. For me, the momentum thing is what your individual players get out of the game. There’s not many of our individuals who haven’t taken a lot in this game.”
And at the start of the ongoing series against India, Ponting’s utterances may have led the uninitiated to believe that the Asutralian captain does believe in momentum!
It seems to me that what he has said in the above examples is that he believed in “momentum”. He now does not. Oh well. One theory when you win. One when you lose, I guess?
Despite the newly-laid Delhi track which saw 4 sub-100 scores in the Champions League, I expect India to field an unchanged side.
Australia have to make changes to the side. Tim Paine is back in Australia. Graham Manou is in. This will mean that Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh open the batting. I am not convinced that Cameron White is an appropriate player at #4. But there is something common about Cameron White, Australia and bad choices! Remember the Tests against India in India last year? I have no idea why Cameron White was in that Test side. I am not sure what he is doing batting at #4 in this ODI side. Maybe he will prove me wrong though. Who knows? It is likely that Moises Henriques will get his ODI cap in the Delhi game. He is the sort of bowler that may perform well on the Delhi track.
I will not be surprised if Australia wins the Delhi match. This Ricky Ponting led team is strong and will fight every inch of the way.
And if Australia does win, expect Ponting to say that he was happy to have “reclaimed the momentum”!