As Ravichandran Ashwin ran in to bowl during the ICC Champions Trophy 2017, there was something different about his game. Batsmen were able to tackle him with ease and the variations which he boasted about before the start of the tournament were predictable and could be read by us viewers watching him bowl on T.V.
Having been one of the most fearsome and successful spin bowlers during India's victorious Test season, a lot was expected of him going into the Champions Trophy. However, he looked amateurish at best while bowling to the opposition batsmen.
Watching him bowl during the tournament, one could not help but raise the question of his competence on foreign pitches and in the limited overs' format.
A huge section of the Indian supporters felt that a 37-year-old Harbhajan Singh would have performed better than Ashwin during the Champions Trophy and also felt that he should replace Ashwin in the T20 format as well.
With Harbhajan having played his last match for India back in 2016 during the Asia Cup against UAE, he has enjoyed reasonable success at the domestic level and the Indian Premier League.
At 37, Bhajji might not have a lot of years left in him and would be itching to play for India once again before he calls it a day. With Ashwin's dip in form and with India giving a chance to other seniors such as Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni time and again, we could surely see the Turbanator back in action once again.
Ashwin and Harbhajan have not played too many matches together and we have not been able to witness them bowl in tandem. In this article, we take a look at their statistics in different formats and compare them and see who the better bowler is.
From the statistics, it is clear that Ashwin has been the far better bowler in Tests when compared to Harbhajan. Having played almost 50 Tests less than Bhajji, Ashwin is just about 150 wickets behind the Turbanator and he could well eclipse his record in the years to come.
However, over the past few years, the pitches produced in India have come under a lot of criticism for the amount of spin generated right from day 1. The "rank turners" seem to have benefited Ashwin a lot as he has picked up most of his wickets on turning tracks.
Harbhajan too has picked up a huge number of wickets when the pitch has given him assistance but he has the knack of picking up wickets on flat decks as well with the bounce and pace he has generated with the ball.
The ODI stats give us an interesting comparison, unlike the Tests. At home, once again the statistics are skewed in favour of Ashwin and he trumps his senior in almost all aspects.
However, in the ODIs played away from home, Harbhajan has proved to be better than Ashwin on all fronts except the Strike Rate, which is mainly due to the fact of the number of ODIs played.
The thing to notice is that Harbhajan's economy rate is better than Ashwin and that plays a major role in the limited overs format. Also, Ashwin is yet to pick up a five-wicket haul in ODIs.
Given the fact that Harbhajan has played only two T20Is at home, we cannot compare his stats with Ashwin. However, if we compare the away statistics, it is quite competitive.
Both, Ashwin and Harbhajan average 24 in an almost equal number of matches. Ashwin's Strike Rate is a bit better but Bhajji's economy rate is lower than Ashwin, which, of course, is better.
If we look at their IPL performances over the years as well, Harbhajan's economy rate has been better than Ashwin.
Looking at the statistics, it is tough to decide who the better off-spinner between the two is. Once Ashwin plays as many matches as Harbhajan and once they both call it a day, we would probably get a better picture of who the better bowler was.
With Ashwin currently in the squad in all three formats of the game and Harbhajan not playing in any format, the latter should probably be given preference in the shorter formats of the game.
With hardly a couple of years left in his career, Harbhajan could bring a lot to the table, especially in T20Is. With his knack to contain the opposition's runs and pick up wickets at regular intervals, he could be a huge asset to the Indian side.