"Which spinner will play the second fiddle to Anil Kumble?" That has been the question on all Indian cricket lovers' lips since Sachin Tendulkar's team left for Australia on a long tour. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh is a member of this contingent. Will he deliver the goods? Harbhajan Singh made his test debut in 1998 against Australia in Bangalore.
A lot was expected from this youngster, who was just 19 years of age at that time. He did impress with his approach in the big league. Most experts felt that it was too early to say the last word on this teenager. Soon Harbhajan and his admirers suffered a shock. His bowling action was found suspect and he had to undergo a series of tests and eventually change his action. He was back in the international arena with this "altered" action. With this style, Harbhajan just could not play his role effectively during the India -New Zealand test series in India (Oct-Nov).
Considering the plight of Harbhajan, many thought that the other off-spinner Nikhil Chopra might as well make the trip to Australia for the test series. But, the fact remains that Chopra, rightly or wrongly, is being rated as an ODI specialist. So Chopra may be going 'down under' only for the tri-series involving Australia, India and Pakistan. Having chosen five pacemen in the team - Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Ajit Agarkar, Debashish Mohanty and T Kumaran - India must be in an unenviable position in the three-test series starting at Adelaide this Friday (Dec 10).
Kumble, the main spinner in the team, had underlined his superior craft in the four-day match against New South Wales. He bagged eight wickets in that game to lead India to victory. With its main spinner having obtained the needed self-confidence, India must be considering various bowling combinations for the Adelaide test. Should they play four pacemen and Kumble or three pacemen with Kumble and Harbhajan? Throughout its 67-year-old history, India has never gone into a test match without a second spinner.
The spin-era always found India fielding three top class spinners. Only once, in the 1967 tour of England did India play all its four spinners of that period - Prasanna, Venkat, Bedi and Chandraekhar. That, however, did not produce the desired result.