x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Pressure on Harbhajan Singh as calls to drop him get louder

Former cricketers question the off-spinner's place in Indian cricket team after taking just one wicket in two Tests against England so far.

NEW DELHI // India's morale-sapping second Test loss against England has triggered a wave of soul-searching back home with some former players questioning spinner Harbhajan Singh's place in the side and the appointment of Duncan Fletcher, the coach.

India arrived in England as the top-ranked Test team and still basking in the success of their 50-over World Cup victory on home soil in April.

But the team have been outplayed in the first two contests of the four-match series.

MS Dhoni's men lost by 196 runs at Lord's last week and were battered by 319 runs within four days at Trent Bridge on Monday, putting England on course to claim the top ranking if they win the series by a two-victory margin.

To arrest the slide, India should drop Harbhajan, Bishan Singh Bedi, the former captain, told the The Times of India newspaper, which also ran a front page opinion piece headlined: "India don't deserve to be No 1 Test side in the world" yesterday.

"There's no point discussing his lack of flight or lack of spin or his action because we have been doing that for years," Bedi said of the off-spinner, who conceded 218 runs for a single wicket at Lord's.

Nursing an abdominal strain, Harbhajan fared little better at Trent Bridge, sending down just 13.4 overs that cost him 69 runs for the wicket of Stuart Broad.

"He lacks guile, and that's a great handicap for a spinner. The right areas to bowl lie not on the 22 yards but in between your ears, in the mind," said Bedi, whose craft and cunning earned him 266 wickets from 67 Tests he played from 1966-1979.

The former left-arm spinner said Harbhajan should return to domestic cricket to rediscover his form and India should include either Amit Mishra, the leg-spinner, or Munaf Patel, the medium pacer, for the third Test starting in Birmingham on August 10.

Bedi added about Harbhajan that "as a senior player, if you're not feeling up to it, you should put your hand up and say so. I don't think he deserves such a long rope anymore".

Anshuman Gaekwad, the former opener, also backs the inclusion of Mishra for Harbhajan in the third Test.

"Mental pressure leads to technical problems, too. Harbhajan is not bowling like an off-spinner. He has virtually no follow-through and no transfer of weight," Gaekwad said.

"He is bowling with too much effort and trying to save himself from getting hit. I believe it's better for the team if Amit Mishra is drafted in."

The back-to-back defeats also made Farokh Engineer, the former wicketkeeper-batsman, wonder if Fletcher was the right man to coach India.

"What are these highly-paid coaches doing?" Engineer asked in the Hindustan Times newspaper.

"The results are not showing. What is Fletcher doing? Just because Gary Kirsten [his predecessor] recommends him, is that sufficient to get the job?"