From Chucker to Champion

This time 2 years ago, it appeared the cricketing future of India's Harbhajan Singh was in doubt. Accused of chucking by the umpire during a tournament in  Sharjah in 1999, who could possibly predict, he would go on to be one of the  finest off spin bowlers currently playing cricket. Devastated by the accusation, Singh was determined to adjust his suspect bowling action and under the guidance of former English cricket great Fred Titmus, he was able to make the necessary adjustments, which would set him on the path to Indian cricket history.

Identified by Indian cricket authorities as a player of great promise, he was  invited to train at India's cricket academy, such an invitation would generally lead to a long and distinguished career in Indian cricket, however, the hot headed 19 year old  Singh, believed the training methods being utilised at the academy, were old  fashioned and not in step with the modern game. His opinions did not go down well with the Indian cricket authorities who did not take kindly to the attitudes of the young and inexperienced player. After storming out of the academy, it appeared he would be doomed forever to languish in the ranks of domestic cricket and any chance of representing his country was gone.

With the death of his father in August 2000, changes started to appear in the attitudes of Singh, who was left with the legacy of having to look after his  younger sisters as the result of his fathers death. The young hot head started to mature quickly with the responsibilties he had now inherited, he realised the importance of the position he was now in and the fact, cricket could well be his future. Maturing at a fast pace, he started to come to the attention of both the  National selectors and Sourav Ganguly, the captain of the National team, however, the selectors would not consider him for the series against Australia as a result of his previous reputation.

Ganguly, argued furiously with the selectors for the inclusion of Singh in the National squad before the first test against Australia. Although aware of  the reputation of Singh as a hot head, he was more focussed on the exceptional  talents and bowling skills of Singh and apparently, looked on his attitude with a different light than that of the selectors. Ganguly demanded the inclusion of Singh and whatever he said, it worked. Singh was included in the squad to meet  Australia for the first test in Mumbai and although unknown to all parties at this time, he would prove to be the difference between winning and losing the series against the Aussies.

Although India lost the first test to the Aussies by 10 wickets and the bowling performance of Singh was only mediocre with figures of 4-132 from a total of 32 overs bowled, Ganguly was  determined to persist with the young bowler and give him another opportunity in the second test. What a decision this would turn out to be, not only did Singh write himself into Indian cricket history by taking the first ever Hat-trick by an  Indian bowler, his bowling destroyed the Australian batting attack, resulting in  an unexpected win for India and squaring the three test series, 1-1. His figures of 13  wickets for 196 runs from 68.2 overs for the match were an exceptional  performance. It was clearly evident the Australians, had no idea how to play the young Indian spinner and Singh would be the necessary trump card for India to win the 3rd and final match in Chennai. The faith  Ganguly had shown in Singh was well rewarded, India was now in the box seat to  take the series and bring the winning streak of the Australians to a standstill.

Under immense psychological pressure, the Aussies once again crumbled under  the bowling of Singh during the third and final test, again it was evident, they had no idea how to play the off spin of Singh. Going into the fifth and final  day of the test, Australia seemed in a position to be able to force a draw or a slim chance of winning the match and the series. Not so! Singh tore the batting line up to pieces resulting in a win for India and taking the three test series 2-1. A star was born, Harbhajan Singh, once the outcast of Indian cricket was now the champion of the series and Indias new cricket sensation. With figures of 15 wickets for 217 runs from 80.1 overs in the final test, Singh, rewrote the record books of Indian cricket once more for the most wickets in a series by an Indian bowler against Australia with a total of 32 wickets at a strike rate of 1 dismissal for every 17.03 balls  bowled.

From chucker to champion, what was it, that brought a player from the brink  of oblivion to the halls of cricketing stardom. No! it was not the fact he could turn a ball so ferociously as to make it unplayable, the secret with the bowling  of Singh, lies in the fact, his bowling action is unreadable. Normally a batsman can read the bowling action of a new bowler reasonably quickly, due to the fact, each type of different delivery is performed with its own unique arm and wrist action. This is not the case with Singh, he makes the delivery of a non turning ball, look exactly the same as the delivery of one which spins. It's this that causes the problems for batsmen, they cannot anticipate what type of delivery to expect from him.

The fact Singh, can also loop the ball through the air, causing it to fall shorter than anticipated by the batsman, further adds to the confusion of  anticipating where the ball will strike the bat, regularly resulting in the  batsman playing a shot incorrectly, or untimed. This will often cause the batsman to hit a catch to the close in fieldsmen, as was witnessed many times  during the current series. Singh actually took more wickets with his deliveries  that did not spin, than he did with his spinners. It is his ability to bowl the unreadable ball, which will allow him to maintain a prominent position in Indian  cricket for many years to come and maintain his prominence in the coming series  against Zimbabwe, set to begin on 7 June at Harare.

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