For over a decade, he was one half of India's famed spin twins. When Anil Kumble pegged away at the other end, Harbhajan Singh provided variety, and the opposition sensed danger if the pitch afforded bounce or if he struck early.
All those achievements appear eons away. Dropped from the India team due to poor form and injury during last year's disastrous England tour, the off-spinner has continued to struggle at lower levels. Instead of fighting back, he seems to be slipping into oblivion.
Down and out
Outof the India equation, the wickets' column has stayed barren. And after another wicket-less spell in the defeat against the Delhi Daredevils, the Mumbai Indians' skipper looked forlorn and under pressure.
Neither the leader nor the bowler has clicked in IPL V, after Sachin Tendulkar opted out as skipper. He has taken one wicket in eight matches and seven innings - he did not bowl in the rout by the Daredevils at the Wankhede. On Friday, he fired in from around the wicket in an unsuccessful bid to restrict the scoring at the Ferozshah Kotla.Young left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha was warming the bench. Tendulkar, fielding at mid-on, directed the fielders and spoke to the bowlers, indicating desperation in the ranks of the Champions League winners.
At 31, the spinner should be at the height of his powers. Instead, he was left to explain his poor run. "I have not been in the best of form. I have to lift my game, can't keep on bowling like this," he said. "I take the blame. I should have bowled better. I'll work hard. I have to start taking wickets."
He rued the fact that T20 was too batsmen-oriented, although far lesser-known spinners have done well. "There is hardly any pressure on the batsmen. They come and swing the bat. I have to lift my performances, start doing things I'm known for."
Former India spinner Maninder Singh pointed out that wickets had dried up for Bhajji two seasons before he was dropped by the selectors. "The intention, the depth in bowling to try and get wickets is not there," he told HT. Defensive, leg-side field placements by skipper MS Dhoni had only made Harbhajan more defensive, which is not good for Indian cricket.
"The question is whether he is bowling enough in the nets, and whether he is in a position in life where he can't go to anyone for guidance. He will have to start focusing, like Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman."