Harbhajan holds key for India, says Wasim Akram

Published: Tuesday, October 7, 2008, 18:04 [IST]
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Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh holds the key for India in their series against world champions Australia, former Pakistan great Wasim Akram said on Tuesday.

India start as favourites in the four-match series which begins with the first Test at Bangalore on Thursday and Akram said that first encounter would set the tone for the matches to come.

"I think Harbhajan holds the key for India," Akram, who led Pakistan to victory in India in 1999, told AFP.

"India surely have the edge with their quality spinners Anil Kumble and Harbhajan and it will be a matter of how the Australians play these two, right from the first Test."

Akram said Harbhajan's aggression made him a match-winner.

"I like the way he bowls, with aggression and cunning, and those have paid dividends for him. He has tamed world's best batsman, Ricky Ponting, and can again plague the Australian master," Wasim said.

Ponting, rated among the top three batsmen in the world, has a meagre tally of 172 runs in 14 Test innings with a disappointing average of 12.28 on Indian soil.

Of his 14 innings, Ponting fell 13 times to spinners with Harbhajan dismissing him five times during India's 2-1 triumph in 2001.

Akram said India versus Australia had become the "mother of all series".

"The way India have performed against Australia, beating them at Adelaide in 2004 and then at Perth last year, has made the India-Australia series more high profile than even the Ashes," he said.

"The egos of players from both sides and the controversies have made it the most watched series and the fact that this one will decide who is the top team in the world will aggravate the tension."

Akram said the Australian players' toughness made them difficult to beat.

"On this current tour of India, Australia's bowling is inexperienced with no major name in the spin department. But the thing which makes Australia a tough team is their mental and physical fitness," said Akram.

"Mental toughness is something which helped us in 1999 and the same toughness helped Pakistan square a Test series in 2005."

Akram said he doubted there would be any ill-effects from Tuesday's announcement by former India captain Sourav Ganguly that he would retire after the series, or from speculation about the future of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Kumble, and Venkatsai Laxman.

"It will be pressure on the individual players rather than on the team. The senior players would get motivated with the talk of their retirement and can play a vital role," he said.

"I too have been in the same situation and it's up to the individual to take criticism in their stride. If these five players can keep their fitness, especially Tendulkar, some of them can play for another two years or so."

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