Trent Bridge (England): Indian off spinner Harbhajan Singh - nicknamed Turbanator - has made up his mind to play county cricket in England next summer and would sign a deal next week. "I wouldn't give out the name of the county yet as it would be inappropriate to do it before I sign the deal but I am ready for some county action next year," Harbhajan Singh said. Harbhajan is being pursued quite vigorously by both Lancashire and Sussex and says he would take the decision based on the pitches and local support he would receive at a county venue.
"The two factors high up in my list are the kind of pitches I get to play on as well as the local support. Money is important but wouldn't be an overriding factor in my opting for a particular county," he said. Harbhajan betrays his leaning towards Lancashire though by stating the pitches were helpful to Sri Lankan Muthiah Muralitharan in the two seasons he played for the county and there is also a sizeable Asian presence in the Northern county. "Murali was quite successful for Lancashire and there is a great Asian support as well," said Harbhajan, the only Indian bowler to bag a hat-trick in Test cricket.
Muralitharan took 66 wickets from seven matches in 1999 and then returned in 2001 to claim 50 more victims from six games. Chief Executive Officer of Lancashire County Club Jim Cumbes said it was funny how spinners seemed to like the pitch at Old Trafford. "It is quite interesting really how spinners have taken a fancy for Old Trafford pitch. Murali was successful here and Shane Warne has always appreciated the bounce here." "I guess like Warne, Harbhajan too would be happy to play on a pitch which offers good bounce," said Cumbes.
If Harbhajan opts for Lancashire, it would be a bit of an incongruity because Indian captain Saurav Ganguly's one-year stint in 2000 only earned negative reactions. "I think the entire thing was grossly exaggerated. Ganguly would be the first one to admit his form with Lancashire wasn't all that good," said Cumbes. "But it is unfair to see he wasn't liked in the dressing room. He is bit of a loner but nobody holds it against him. Actually, Ganguly was quite popular - it was just a section of the media who blew it out of proportions," Cumbes explained. Lancashire has plumbed for Asian talent quite a few times in the past and Cumbes said it has been an easy choice because they were attractive cricketers.
"Starting with Farookh Engineer, we have drawn Asian talents like Wasim Akram, Muralitharan and Ganguly. We are just hopeful Harbhajan is an addition to this list," Cumbes said. Harbhajan didn't reveal the money which has been offered to him by the two counties but sources say it is at least 80,000 Pound sterling (approximately Rs 57.6 lakh).
Sussex cricket operations manager Peter Moores said Harbhajan would get around as much as the big stars from Asia have received in recent years provided he signs with his county. "Harbhajan is a major star and we would be very excited to have him on the roll. He is as exciting and a big draw as Murali or Wasim or Ganguly and would get around the figure these cricketers have managed. "We are looking for him to not only claim a bagful of wickets but also to stir up Asian support," Moores said.
"India has no engagements next year but for a series against Pakistan in April. So Harbhajan could be available for the entire county season," Moores said. Harbhajan feels it would be part of his learning experience if he opts for a county stint. Some county experience will also help Harbhajan to develop his repertoire and learn how to bowl on foreign pitches with local balls.