Ahead of the T20I series, Harbhajan Singh was randomly asked about his comeback. “First I’ll perform, then I’ll speak,” he said as he wound up his elaborate preparation at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore.
While the focus over the past few days has been on Yuvraj Singh’s return, Harbhajan Singh, who is the other man making a comeback, has been quietly working in the nets. Expected to take over as the lead spinner for India once Anil Kumble had retired, Bhajji has instead lost his place to the young R Ashwin, who has been taking Test wickets by the bagful at home.
However, Bhajji’s inclusion in the T20 squad for this two-match series against New Zealand and the World Cup in Sri Lanka has given him a lifeline.
On Monday, on the eve of the second T20, Bhajji was in flow, bowling a prolonged spell at the MA Chidambaram Stadium nets. If the training serves as any hint, Bhajji may unleash a new variation, the leg-spinner, which left even Suresh Raina surprised.
Whether that variation will be used on Tuesday is yet to be seen, but Bhajji, fresh from producing impressive performances for Essex, looked serious about it as he bowled it on a few occasions along with the doosra and his stock ball. After the nets, he walked up to coach Duncan Fletcher and rotated the wrist, showing him the latest variation. Fletcher simply nodded.
The road for Bhajji has been arduous. After being overlooked, he had gone back to domestic cricket early this year, leading Punjab to the final of the inter-state one-dayers. His returns weren’t really impressive but he played some match-saving knocks there.
The stint with Essex seems to have helped. His last few games saw good returns – a five-wicket haul against the Netherlands in a one-dayer followed by a seven-wicket haul against Glamorgan in a four-dayer.
Sources close to the team say his improved batting means he is being considered more as an all-rounder.
While the batting line-up is more or less settled, Tuesday’s match will be one last chance for India to finalise their bowlers before the team leaves for Sri Lanka. Will they play four or five bowlers? And will they play three seamers or field two off-spinners?
Paceman Lakshmipathy Balaji, whose career has been blighted by injuries, is another player on a comeback. Impressive in IPL V for champions Kolkata Knight Riders, he may get a chance at his home ground. “I have worked on my bowling a lot in the last two years,” he said. With Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan both expected to contribute with the bat, India may look to play five bowlers.