Monday 29 March 2010

Harbhajan Singh and the divine power of willow

Last year it was Sreesanth. This year it was Deccan that felt the implacable wrath of Harbhajan Singh [surely it's no coincidence that the name A. Symonds appeared on their team sheet]. His 18-ball 49 was the kind of innings that provoked a deep, chesty laugh and a shit-eating grin. 

For those who believe in the divining [and divine] power of willow, he was using a bat given to him by Sachin. That thing must have some universal vibes pulsing through it. But beyond that, Harbhajan is an example of a rarely discussed and probably underrated phenomenon, the bowler who can bat. 

It's a genre of its own, distinct from the bowling all-rounder [a group  that includes players like Graeme Swann and Daniel Vettori]. It's populated by men who came into the game to bowl, but then - by stealth, utilising a natural talent and via experience - batting ability, and often flair, asserts itself.

It's not usually measurable by average because performances will probably be sporadic and also late-flowering, meaning there is an early career's worth of stats to overcome. Bhaji's Test average is 16.86, his ODI 12.93. Shane Warne, a prime example of the breed, averaged 17.32 in Tests and 13.05 in ODIs; another goodie, Malcolm Marshall, averaged 18.85 in Tests and 14.92 in ODIs. In first-class cricket, you might pick out a player like John Emburey, who ended his career with seven first class hundreds, and ten Test fifties. 

All are or were dangerous. They have or had a little more to their batting than just tail-end hitting. It's a genre that, in T20 cricket and all of its freedoms, is likely to expand, because that style of batting is well-suited to a clear eye and a swing freed up by the lack of expectation. 


Karthik Krishnaswamy said...

"All are or were dangerous. They have or had a little more to their batting than just tail-end hitting."
Where would that leave Anil Kumble or Jason Gillespie? Neither to my knowledge can be classed batting all-rounder (Test hundred and double hundred notwithstanding), but neither is particularly known for tail-end smiting either.

Tim Newman said...

I heard somewhere that Shane Warne had originally been pinged as a batsman at some point in his veery early career, but failed to quite make it, and Dennis Lillee got hold of him and turned him into a bowler. I have no idea if it is true or not, but it was told to me by a genuine Aussie in a bar, so it might well be!

The Old Batsman said...

Ghanshyam - yes, that's another category, I'd say. Although Gillespie's double hundred was a huge statistical fluke - his next highest score was 54, and that was his only other 50 in 93 innings, so poor old dizzy's well down with the bowlers, I'd say!

Tim, hadn't heard that, but it could be true - by the end of his test career, he was a more than decent bat.