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The ageless wonder that is Harbhajan Singh

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Harbhajan_Singh_India_Chennai_Super_Kings_Cricket_IPLFor some, age is just a number. For others, it’s a realization of their waning physical prowess. Harbhajan Singh is not among the second group of people, as shown in his performances in the 2019 IPL for the perennially consistent Chennai Super Kings (CSK). For someone who is going to turn 39 in July 2019, it is surely some kind of achievement to produce the energy and vigour required to perform in the biggest T20 competition in the world.

When the Chennai Super Kings team management went on a spinner shopping spree at the IPL 2018 auctions, it was a clear indication of how the track at the MA Chidambaram Stadium was going to play. Unfortunately, CSK could play only a single game in their den last season as their home matches were shifted to the more pace-assisting deck of Pune. Nevertheless, they defied expectations last season and made a memorable comeback into the IPL by capturing their third IPL trophy.

Though the homecoming proved to be a success for CSK as a whole, it was not that successful for Harbhajan Singh on a personal front. He made it into the playing XI in 13 games last season but could pick up only 7 wickets at a worrisome average of 38.57- the second-worst for a proper CSK bowler who bowled at least 20 overs last season. Another worrying facet of his performance last season was the economy rate of 8.48 runs per over, far higher than what had been his IPL career economy of 6.99 runs per over.

Speculations were rife that Harbhajan might be released into the auction pool by CSK setup ahead of the IPL 2019 auctions, but the team management decided to put their bets once again on the experience of the veteran spinner. What a repayment this has been from the seasoned campaigner. 11 matches this season resulting in 16 wickets. An average of 19.50 runs apiece – one of the best in the competition among bowlers who had bowled more than 10 overs. An economy rate of 7.09 runs per over – again quite impressive among bowlers who had bowled more than 10 overs. That’s some turnaround for a bowler considered well past his glory days after his not-so-impressive outing in the last season.

So, what worked for him this season? Exactly the same thing which had earlier made him one of the best finger spinners in the world. He is using his subtle variations in the flight and loop of the deliveries to deceive batsmen. Last season, he started darting them straight with a flatter trajectory as soon as he was attacked by the batsmen, which was akin to bowling according to the preference of the striker.

There is no doubt that the turning pitch in Chennai has helped his cause, but this takes nothing away from the veteran spinner because it still takes some application of his skill-set to get the better of the best in the business from around the world. His approach was simple this season. He bowled his spinner’s stock delivery as soon as he came on to bowl, giving a big rip to the ball.

The ball spins sharply with assistance from the pitch and plants a false perception in batsman’s mind about the treacherous nature of the pitch. Once that doubt is planted in his mind, the batsman remains at Harbhajan’s mercy, play with him as he likes. This was why a well-set KL Rahul and Sarfaraz Khan chose not to attack the CSK spin troika, which proved to be too costly an approach for their team.

An underlying factor in Harbhajan’s success this season has been the captaincy of MS Dhoni, who has clearly explained his role in the team. Harbhajan has been used best in the games where conditions have been in favor of the spinners. That approach didn’t change much as the season progressed because Dhoni isn’t a captain who tinkers much with his playing XI.

With a respectable if wicketless 0/27 in the final, lost to Mumbai by the narrowest of margins, Harbhajan Singh has had a good IPL 2019. His transformation from commentator back into a match-winner for CSK has been really commendable. He is enjoying his work at the moment and when you enjoy doing your work, success is bound to come. As it will keep coming for Harbhajan and Chennai Super Kings. 



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