Mohali: On a comeback trail, Harbhajan Singh couldn't have hoped for a better platform with the first two Tests of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy played in perfect conditions for spin bowling.
Even though he has shown signs of improvement, it can't be said that Harbhajan has made the two big chances count. The Mohali Test, from March 14, comes at a crucial time, as coming into the third game of the series it can't be said that the off-spinner is a certainty in the side.
While most players are recharging their batteries before the second leg, Harbhajan has some anxious moments to fight during the long break. Whether he will keep his place in the playing XI is likely to be dictated by the conditions, for, so far he has played the role of the third spinner in the side.
Off-spinner R Ashwin has been the spearhead of the attack and left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja has been the second choice for variety he brings.
Considering the performances in Chennai and Hyderabad, there's no change in the order. Ashwin has the best strike-rate with 18 wickets, Jadeja has 11 while Harbhajan five.
The three have been complementing each other well and in sub-continent conditions, favouring spin, the three will be automatic choices, but the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium can be a different ball game.
Traditionally, it is known as the best venue in India for pace bowling, and both sides might have to rethink their combinations.
As far as team combination is concerned, if the India think-tank decides to go with two spinners and three pacers, Harbhajan might find himself on the sidelines.
Ever since he has been out of the squad, Harbhajan has been looking for that one match which will put him back as India's best spinner.
During his Ranji stint as Punjab skipper, the PCA did not prove to be a happy hunting ground for Harbhajan. Not only did he struggle to bowl on the green wickets, he was also not effective in stopping the flow of runs.
With still six days to go for the Test, expert opinion is in favour of a pace-heavy bowling attack. Punjab bowling coach Harvinder Singh said he did not see spin playing a major role in Mohali.
"The pacers will get assistance in the morning and evening. According to me, three pacers and one spinner will be an ideal combination. There is still sometime to go for the match but at the most India can gamble with two pacers and two spinners," said Harvinder.
Former India spinner Maninder Singh also believed that it was becoming difficult for the off-spinner to cement his place in the squad. "I have my doubts if spin is going to play a major role in Mohali. Besides, a lot will be depend on what combination India go with. Dhoni has already advocated the need for having horses for the courses," he said.
"No doubt Jadeja has done well but the conditions were also helpful. On better tracks, Dhoni will need good bowlers. We also have Ojha in the squad. If the wicket column remains what it has been, it will be difficult for Harbhajan to hold his position in the team."