Ever since Harbhajan Singh burst on to the international scene in 1998, for a better part of the next decade, he and Anil Kumble carried India’s spin attack forward till the latter ended his superlative journey in 2008.
With Harbhajan ruled out for the third Test against Sri Lanka, it was the fifth time since his debut that India took the field without the two in the XI.
Interestingly, the previous four instances involved Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Though India won three out of the four Tests, too much shouldn’t be read into the results.
Naturally, it didn’t come as a surprise when left-arm orthodox spinner Pragyan Ojha and leg-spinner Amit Mishra, with a combined tally of 46 Test wickets in 14 caps, struggled to pose questions to the formidable Lanka batting.
Ojha succeeded twice. First, he enticed Kumar Sangakkara to play a lofted stroke straight to Virender Sehwag at long on. Then, Mahela Jayawardene was adjudged leg-before wicket. The former skipper was playing too forward and given the bite in the wicket, the ball might have gone over the bails.
Ojha was candid to admit that he missed the senior pros at the other end. “Obviously, senior players like Zak (Zaheer) pa and Bhajju (Harbhajan) pa, we obviously need them. But as an individual, this is the best opportunity to prove yourself,” he said.
Sri Lanka’s assistant coach, Stuart Law, was sympathetic towards the India spinners. “Mishra is playing his first Test in the series. Spinners on Day One shouldn’t really be playing too much of a part. Ojha got a few balls to go past the bat, I think he’s bowled without luck,” he said.
If the two are to avoid another toil, they will need a much better show on Wednesday.