x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Only Harbhajan Singh to blame for lack of support from MS Dhoni

The India off-spinner has yet to justify his selection in the ongoing Chennai Test against Australia.

MS Dhoni, right, the India captain, was visibly disgusted by Harbhajan Singh's poor shot selection that led to his dismissal in Chennai. Indranil Mukherjee / AFP
MS Dhoni, right, the India captain, was visibly disgusted by Harbhajan Singh's poor shot selection that led to his dismissal in Chennai. Indranil Mukherjee / AFP

During a playing career that lasted nearly 16 years, VVS Laxman was famed for letting his bat convey the message.

Now, in a new avatar as a commentator for Star Sports, broadcasters of the India-Australia series, he has caused a stir by questioning MS Dhoni's handling of Harbhajan Singh, the off-spinner playing his 100th Test.

In Australia's first innings, Harbhajan bowled 25 overs, while Ravichandran Ashwin, who picked up seven wickets, bowled 42. Even Ravindra Jadeja, playing only his second Test, got 36 overs. Harbhajan's only wicket was Peter Siddle, a tail-ender.

"Harbhajan, who is low on confidence, knows that the captain doesn't trust his ability," Laxman said. "Secondly, he is not getting enough overs to get back in rhythm. There is a lot of cricket left in this match, and I am sure that he will play a big part as the match progresses.

"It is very important to give confidence to Harbhajan and not bowling him, obviously, you are sending wrong signals to him. Especially for someone coming back into the Test team after a long time, he will be low on confidence, he will be a little insecure, and that's when as a captain you are supposed to encourage your bowler."

To be fair to Dhoni, Harbhajan was the spinner he first turned to, as early as the sixth over. It was only after he failed to establish any measure of control – constantly dropping the ball short or wide – that he was taken off.

But whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter, people were talking of little else when Dhoni walked out to bat at the fall of Sachin Tendulkar's wicket this morning.

The last time his captaincy came under such scrutiny was after the loss to England in Kolkata, a defeat that ended up costing India the series.

He responded by making 99 in Nagpur, stitching together a partnership with Virat Kohli that ensured India would not lose a third Test in a home series for the first time in three decades.

In Chennai, the riposte was even more muscular, an unbeaten 206 off 243 balls that put India in control of the Test against Australia. There was a 34-run partnership with Harbhajan too, which ended with a wild heave across the line and a stump cartwheeling.

Dhoni was so disgusted by Harbhajan's choice of shot that he did not even look at him as he walked off.

Dhoni's runs only served to further muddy waters, though.

For a while now, India's team selection has bordered on the bizarre. Dropping Pragyan Ojha, the best bowler against England, made no sense and with Dhoni batting ahead of Ravindra Jadeja at No 6, it would have made far more sense to pick the five bowlers most likely to take wickets.

Ashwin's heroics glossed over the mediocrity of the overall bowling effort. The ordinariness of India's pace attack was highlighted by the sustained hostility and brilliance of some of James Pattinson's spells, while Harbhajan probably needs an immense second-innings performance to keep his place in the team.

Laxman's sympathy notwithstanding, he has not really helped himself.

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