Swann inspires Harbhajan

Harbhajan Singh, the India offspinner, has said he used Graeme Swann as an example of how to bowl on wickets in South Africa during India’s recent drawn Test series there. Harbhajan took 15 wickets in the three Tests, and said a lot of his success had to do with bowling a wicket-to-wicket line on tracks that were not offering turn, something Swann, the England offspinner, did during England’s tour of South Africa in 2009-10, when he took 21 wickets in four Tests.

“Swann bowled exactly the same throughout the series: wicket-to-wicket,” Harbhajan told ESPNcricinfo in an extended interview that will be published on February 15. “He gave himself the chance. I did the same in Durban and got four quick wickets [in the first innings].”

Harbhajan said he watched videos of Swann bowling during that England tour as part of his own preparation for the South Africa series. “His strength is to vary the pace very well. He has a very nice action, gets a good loop. He is a very smart bowler whether it is Test or one-day cricket he bowls a tight line.

“I like the way he bowls especially with the kind of line and length he bowls. I had watched the videos of him bowling in South Africa and what made him successful. I brought similar results and picked up wickets.”

Swann has established himself as one of the top spinners in the modern game and, on Monday, won the ESPNcricinfo Statsguru Award for the best bowler of 2010. Harbhajan has not seen that much of Swann bowling himself, having only played two Tests against him back in 2008, and said it was his former Mumbai Indians team-mate Shaun Pollock who, during the IPL, pointed out Swann as an example of how to bowl a straighter line.

Harbhajan had a poor start to the tour, picking up just two wickets and conceding 169 runs in India’s heavy defeat in Centurion, and said he made the adjustment because bowling outside off stump in South Africa allowed the batsmen to play through the covers and point.

“In the first Test, I bowled a lot of balls in their areas, which made them comfortable. The line I was bowling was outside off stump but because the wicket was so true, the bounce was true, it was not spinning so much, so the South African batsmen played on the back foot towards cover and point. The same ball they were able to drive, they were also able to walk across to and take a single on the leg side. You can’t give runs on both sides of the wicket.”

It was former India allrounder Ravi Shastri who first advised Harbhajan to pitch the ball within the line of the stumps. “His reasoning was if the batsman tried to go for the cover drive he would need to open the bat and he would avoid playing the cut shot as I am bowling on the stumps. They also can’t sweep or play a cross-batted stroke as there is a chance of lbw. The only option left to them is to be patient and score runs where you have set the field.

“The idea was to make the batsman dare to play against the spin. It clicked. [Hashim] Amla played numerous sweep shots in the first innings at Centurion and it worked because I was pitching outside off. Later Shaun Pollock pointed out that I should bowl wicket-to-wicket otherwise batsmen will hit me through covers or between mid-on and midwicket . So, in Durban, where it does not spin, I kept it straight and Amla went for the sweep and was lbw.”

Harbhajan’s six wickets were crucial in securing India’s win in Durban, and in the third Test in Cape Town, he took seven wickets in the second innings, on a track offering him some turn.


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