International Cricket
How Ashwin got it right and why Harbhajan struggled
5 years, 3 months ago Posted in: International Cricket 25
How Ashwin got it right and why Harbhajan struggled

It’s not often that you get an opportunity to see two similar kinds of spinners operating in tandem, for rarely a team fields two leg-spinners or two off-spinners in the playing XI. India did that with Harbhajan and Ashwin in the first Test at Chennai, both bowling parallel on a turning pitch against a batting line-up that wasn’t too proficient against the turning ball. While it was only logical to assume that the senior pro Harbhajan Singh, playing his 100th Test match would steal a march on his junior, it didn’t pan out that way, for Ashwin remained miles ahead. What did Ashwin do right and where did Harbhajan miss out would make for an interesting study.

Bowling slow

There’s always a temptation to bowl quicker on turning pitches but if bowling quick doesn’t come naturally, it backfires, for one tends to compromise on the technique. That’s what was visible during the first Test match where Ashwin bowled a lot slower and hence extracted more off the surface. Bowling slower also meant a bit more flight and that allowed the ball to grip the surface, extracting more bounce. On the contrary, Harbhajan chose to bowl a lot quicker and flatter, which resulted in the lack of bite. The problem with bowling fast is that it leads to under-cutting the ball, which results in the ball skidding through the surface instead of gripping it.

Looking for spin

Ashwin, in the past, has been guilty of trying too many variations too often. Just because he possessed weapons in his armory, he felt obliged to display all of them, at times in the same over. But here, he resisted the temptation of bowling different variations and stuck to bowling regular off-spinners instead. If the normal off-spin is causing enough trouble, there isn’t a need to do more. That’s where Harbhajan has lagged behind, not just in this Test match but also in the last couple of years, for his off-spinners aren’t turning as much as they used to earlier. Whether it has something to do with the over-exposure to T20 cricket or over-reliance on ‘doosra’ and ‘top-spinners’ is something only Harbhajan can and must figure out.


All great spinners tell you that the moment the batsman starts playing a spinner on the back-foot, the bowler is rendered useless. A spinner’s deception lies in throwing the ball up in the air, taking it above the batsman’s eye-line and drawing him forward. Ashwin’s length in the first Test match was a lot fuller than Harbhajan’s and hence produced the desired results. Ashwin drew the batsman forward and induced mistakes. On the contrary, Harbhajan’s length was a little shorter and thus allowed the batsmen to stay on the back-foot.

One Test match doesn’t make Ashwin a better bowler than Harbhajan, for the senior pro has done it over a decade. Yet, it gives clear indications about Harbhajan’s current form, which is a genuine concern.

This article was first published in Gulf News and Hindustan Times 

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25 Responses

  1. Karthik says:

    Spot on Aakash! Precisely the reason why Ojha should get in for Bhajji.Also Rahane must come in for Jadeja as you rightly mentioned on cnnibn.

    • Vishwanath Sadanand says:

      Nice analysis abt the art of spin by our gutsy and intelligent
      Chopra… I think even though Ravichandra Ashwin bowled superbly after making a few changes in his body alignment and release (Kudos to his bowling coach Sunil Subramaniam) yes and being relentless on his length and line….Bhajji too will be back with a bang…Augurs well for our new look Indian team…all our players are coming into their own…Best wishes and we all pray that Captain cool MSD along with our master blaster Sachin Tendulkar keep leading the way for the young guns in our team to emulate..TC…

  2. pankit says:

    Harbhajan bowled way better than ashwin in the 2nd innings..its just that the wickets column begs to differ..also if u read an article which shows bhajjis interview after the match, he said ashwin bowled better than him because ashwin bowled faster and not..I repeat nt slower than bhajji and that was the plan of all the 3 spinners as they dint want the batsman to get time to think on a pitch that was all dust n I guess this isn’t corrct..but still u right good articles but sometimes u r too critical

    • Sunny Chaudhary says:

      Well, Rightly said .. Ashwin was a normal bowler against England and no doubt Bhajju pa bowled way better than Ashwin in 02nd Innings however wickets columns doesn’t suggest same.

  3. Aakash says:

    Thanks, Karthik.
    Pankit, could you please share the link of that interview, for my observation was that Ashwin was bowling a tad slower and flighted a bit more than Bhajji. Thanks.

  4. pankit says:

    Its on dont have it ..ul surely get it on…keep up the good work..cheers

  5. Avneet says:

    Nice observations Aakash. I am a bit disappointed at the way Harbhajan was used in the 1st test. A guy in your side is low on confidence, he gets a wicket (Siddle). Opposition is 9 down and there’s a huge lbw appeal which seems plumb and he is removed from bowling. Wouldn’t you give him an extended spell to give back his confidence. After all nothing can match “Match Practice” and you would probably need him in the 2nd innings when the wicket is much more conducive. Isn’t it? A similar thing happened in 2nd innings. He took 2 wickets in a 4 over spell (1st and 4th over) and was removed from bowling.

  6. Arun a says:

    This is a good article.. But the fact that harbhajan is back playing international cricket without any strong domestic performance is puzzling. Doesn’t it set a wrong precedent for young players? That you can live on your past laurels and take your place in the team for granted??

  7. Prakash says:

    Absolutely True. But How do You think Ashwin Would pane out in Non Friendly Conditions in SA/ Australia.

  8. Nekib says:

    It’s high time Bhajji should think of retirement. He is owefully out of form since last few years. I can’t understand why he was preferred to Ojha. May be the selectors want to give him farewell by allowing him to play his 100th test.

  9. venkat says:

    Ashwin bowled faster. And the problem with Harbhajan Singh is that he is trying to be a bowler that he is not. Harbhajan needs to bowl at close to 90 kph with a lot of over spin on the ball with a front on action. These days he is trying to impart side spin bowl at around 85kph and beat the batsmen with flight, turn and revs. The problem with such a method is that Harbhajan doesn’t have the body action (pivot, going up on the toe, alignment etc etc) to beat the batsmen. He should stick to bowling quick through the air. That is his strength. And he should also start bowling the doosra a lot more. We can argue about the legality of the delivery till the cows come home but I think that as long it is allowed he should make use of it.

  10. SUJEET says:

    Akash Sir,
    A QUESTION TO YOU: Do you think Md.Kaif is captain material and should RAYUDU BE IN INDIAN TEAM? I THINK SO!!
    it’s a good article. I thought ashwin and jadeja bowled better then bhajji cuz bhajji lacks confidence. u could see that in his follow through. I remember when he use to use his shoulders and had a good follow through.However,in this series he just stayed at the crease.Spinners bowl well when in rhythm,Bhajji was taken off after taking wicket and only bowled to tail after that. So in my opinoin bhajji should get more chance and more freedom to bowl. He is still india’s best spinner without doubts.

  11. Raj says:

    Good stuff, Akash!

    I agree with you and fail to understand why has the art of off-spin bowling suddenly clouded by how much variation and armory you have in your tank. When Bhajji started his career, all he had to do was regular off-spin which extracted bounce and spin enough to create havoc. Clearly, if simple things are done properly, life would be much easier. :)

  12. Venkatesh says:

    Hi Aakash,

    First of all i woiuld like to congratulate you for writing insightful articles. My doubt here is, is Dhoni not showing enough confidence on Bhajji? for instance after tea 2nd day Bhajji never got to bowl for more than 200 min. Bhajji was a far more better bowler when he played under DADA because of the confidence that his captain showed on him. Could you please throw some light on it.

  13. Jackwin says:

    Hey Akash!!! Nice article..but dont u think Ashwin deserves a bit more credit??? If he takes 14 more wickets in 3 more matches i.e. 6 innings he’ll have as many wickets as Philander from the same no. of matches. And Ashwin has played 3 of those outside the subcontinent…Philander,none in the subcontinent…:-)let’s not even talk about the support Ashwin gets from his fellow bowlers.

  14. Venkatesh says:

    oops!OVERSIGHT thats 1st day tea in my previous query.


  15. Crishna says:

    Ashwin bowled well.. But the Australian batsmen contributed to their own downfall with poor footwork… They played back to deliveries where they should have been forward and vice versa … And their attempts at aggression were misguided to say the least… It was not that bad a pitch as it was made out to be… Ashwin bowled in the right areas… But he did the same against England too… Only difference was England handled him much better.. Cook was patient and pieterson was dominating.,, hence I still hold my reservations against ashwin,… Good article though….. !!

  16. NEERAJ Wadhwa says:


  17. Sriram says:

    But Aakash, Bowling slow? In Mumbai i suppose you too advocated that the diff was Monty’s speed that resulted in more wickets and less time for batters to react, while Ash and Ohja bowled slow on a turning wicket and batters had time to pick them and put it away!! How come suddendly you are reversing that opinion?

    • Aakash says:

      Please see what I wrote–if bowling quick doesn’t come naturally to you, you struggle. Panesar’s normal speed is 10 kmph more than the rest…he didn’t change it to suit the pitch.

      • venkat says:

        But, Harbhajan’s natural pace is high 80s to early 90s. As another post rightly points out, Harbhajan needs to get even more front on rather than go side on. People have been messing with Harbhajan. They don’t understand his strengths. Kumble never bowled a big spinning leg break but in the middle of his career he started bowling a little slower through the air almost to please the critics whereas his strengths were to bowl with a lot of top spin (much like Harbhajan). Harbhajan needs to bowl the way he knows. Not in a way to please the critics. The last time he really bowled well was the Eden gardens test match against South Africa in 2010. We need him to bowl like that.

  18. Sriharsha says:

    Dear Aakash ,

    What’s the rationale dropping Ojha and playing Jadeja and Harbhajan instead. Wouldn’t a solid bowler and a good batsman be better than Harbhajan who is past his use-by-date and Jadeja , who doesn’t seem to be cutting it in test cricket.

    FYI – Ojha averages 24 the last two years, easily the better of the bowlers.

  19. Vineesh Vedsen says:

    Let not talk so much of Ashwin just so soon. He got 12 wickets all right but let the series proceed. He was playing in front of his home crowd. They were aware that he has lost confidence, and they were egging him on. Let him play at other centers. He has hardly been tested in this test. The wicket was for the turners. Even in the ODIs against England, his shortcomings were all to see. So one test doesnt do too big a wonder.

  20. Nekib says:

    Agree with Venkat. Bhajji is trying to be a bowler which he is not.

  21. FAWAZ says:


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