Ever since the Indian team arrived in Sri Lanka for a full series, the lack of bowling options has been their biggest cause for concern. Not only because of Zaheer Khan’s unavailability for the series but also due to Harbhajan Singh’s ailment.
The premier off-spinner has been down with a bacterial infection for over a week now. Still, with an inexperienced bowling attack, the Indian team management had no choice but to risk a half-fit Harbhajan.
“Yes it was,” coach Gary Kirsten said after the opening day’s play when asked whether it was a gamble to go in with Bhajji. “But if he hadn’t played, we would have been really inexperienced in our bowling. He is a gutsy cricketer. He just said ‘listen, I want to play’. He is not that well at the moment. He had flu and was on the bed in the warm-up game. You don’t recover fast from flu, it has taken some toll but we need him in the team.”
While Harbhajan appeared exhausted every time he completed an over, debutant Abhimanyu Mithun emerged as the surprise package. The pacer was the only bowler who looked like getting a wicket in each of his four spells.
“I thought Mithun bowled superbly for his first Test. It’s great to see a really athletic young bowler,” Kirsten said. “He certainly showed that he is capable of doing well at this level. He bowled at decent pace and in good areas for most of the day, so I am pretty impressed.”
Unfortunately, Mithun didn’t have support from Ishant Sharma from the other end. The Delhi bowler looked ordinary for most of the day, but Kirsten advocated patience. “By his own admission, he could have avoided certain types of deliveries,” said Kirsten.
“He bowled well in the last spell and hopefully he will continue to build his confidence as he goes along. We need to be patient with Ishant. He hasn’t had much game time in the last three months. In his last Test in Kolkata he made a crucial contribution, got two vital wickets against South Africa. We need to be patient with guys who we know have the
potential and talent to go forward. We must be careful not to judge him in one practice game and one day here. Let’s give him a bit of run and see how he goes.”
One thing that could have helped Ishant was for him to have played for India A in England recently, but the selectors chose to send a rookie attack on that assignment. “I would like the guys to have as much game time as possible. Where ever they get opportunity to play quality cricket they must play,” said Kirsten. “We just pass our suggestions (to selectors) and that’s all. As a coach, I give my suggestions and decisions are made accordingly.”