On the eve of the Durban Test, Harbhajan Singh was at the nets having an animated discussion for almost an hour with the national selector touring with the team, Narendra Hirwani. While everyone else left, Harbhajan and the former India leggie continued to discuss how to spin a web around the South Africans.
It must not have been easy plotting that, considering the green Kingsmead pitch was tailor-made for fast bowlers and Harbhajan himself had conceded almost 85 runs for each of his two wickets in Centurion.
But Hirwani couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear on Monday after the off-spinner came up with an astounding effort, snapping up four wickets for just 10 runs in 7.2 over to polish off South Africa’s tottering lower order batting.
“I had told him he just needs to be his aggressive self,” Hirwani said. “There’s nothing much you could tell the bowler who has taken as many wickets as he has. It’s just that sometimes one is not feeling on top of his game. You just need to give him that confidence. And you could see for yourself how positive and aggressive he looked today.”
Given how green the wicket looked and in conditions that was predicted to stay overcast and wet throughout the match, there was a huge doubt if spinners would have any role to play. Both sides only expected their pacers to do the job, with the spinners drafted in to do a holding job.
“Wicket looks very green, but Harbhajan can control the game a bit.
“On this track, the batsmen will look to cash in on the spinners, so they can benefit from that,” skipper MS Dhoni had said before the match.
Hirwani, however, said he was confident Harbhajan would deliver on this track. “He loves bounce and it was going to be in plenty here. So I was pretty sure he would deliver the goods.”
Former South Africa spinner Omar Henry warned the hosts.
“With the flight and bounce he got today, I see him as a major threat to South Africa in the second innings. If he bowls as well as he did today, a total of 200 will be difficult to get.”