Time and again, commentators have raved about Harbhajan Singh’s ‘tail’ being up as soon as he gets an early wicket. While it may be a cliche, it has its basis firmly in fact, for there is perhaps no bowler in world cricket who behaves more differently when he has scalped one to when he hasn’t.
Sunday’s England game here was the Jalandhar boy’s first in India colours since the second Test against the same opponents at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, in July-August last year.
Since then, he had sustained an abdominal injury, been dropped on form, won the Champions League Twenty20 for Mumbai Indians, failed miserably in the domestic season that followed, and then spent the last month playing Division Two County Cricket for Essex with mixed fortunes.
Then, Eoin Morgan decided to play a cut shot to the second delivery of the sixth over. Harbhajan, bowling his first over, fired in the quicker top- spinner and shattered the woodwork.
Immediately, one could see the ‘tail’ was up. In other words, Bhajji was pumped up and ready to take on the world again after a confidence shattering 14 months in the wilderness.
“For me it was an important game. I hadn’t played international cricket for a full year. Getting a wicket first or second ball gives you a lot of confidence,” he said after the game.
“In T20 cricket, it’s important to just read the game. I have tried to cut down my run- up a bit. I was running in too fast, and struggling to find my areas. So I was consciously coming in off a short run, and slowly.”
Next ball, Harbhajan bowled a doosra to Jonny Bairstow that beat him in the air and nearly got him stumped. It was obvious that the problem of firing it in quick, that had led to his decline, had been worked on, and an off- spinner’s best friends – variation in loop and bounce – were back.
With the pitch affording just a little help, the off-breaks turned, the doosras turned away, and the topspinners hurried through. England’s batsmen, never the best players of spin in any case, decided to commit hara- kiri by trying to play cross- batted strokes.
The bowler had to wait till the end of his third over for his next wicket, despite beating the bat on numerous occasions. But Tim Bresnan’s attempted sweep took the top edge because of extra bounce and was gobbled up by deep square leg.
Off his very next ball, Harbhajan bowled Jos Buttler with another beauty. The batsman backed away to leg and Bhajji bowled a normal off-break that broke the stumps, before getting his opposite number Graeme Swann, with a doosra so pretty it could’ve won a beauty pageant.
Much better batsmen than Swann would’ve taken the bait and gotten stumped. Four for 12 off four overs was a great return for a comeback match, but according to skipper MS Dhoni, Harbhajan can do even better.
“It was important that he did well in this particular game - I don’t mean he had to take four wickets - but I think he is someone who can do better than this. But if you go by the circumstances, it was a brilliant performance by him,” the skipper said.
But for Harbhajan, even more than the elation of success, it was the relief of donning the India jersey again that was paramount. “Without playing for India, I don’t know what else I could do,” he said.
“It’s been a hard year for me. I’ve been out of the side due to injuries and whatnot, and the other boys have been doing really well. So for me it was an important game. This (man of the match) award is for my mom and for the people who have stuck with me in difficult times.”
He still has miles to go in order to get back to his attacking best. But Harbhajan has made a good start. And while it was Arnold Schwarzenegger who promised to do so in The Terminator, it’s the Turbanator who is back.
The four-wicket haul against England would have done Harbhajan’s confidence a world of good, especially on his comeback.