NAGPUR: India’s reputation as an all-conquering team at home is under threat from lowly ranked New Zealand, which heads into the third and final Test with the series locked at 0-0.
To add to the surprising nature of this series, India’s main spinner Harbhajan Singh has been the star with the bat instead of the ball, becoming the first No. 8 batsman in history to get centuries in consecutive Tests.
However he has taken only six wickets across the first two Tests, and it will be his bowling more than his batting that will be required in the series decider beginning Saturday, as the hosts need to find a way to take 20 wickets to force a face-saving victory.
India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was diplomatic when asked whether he needed ‘Harbhajan the bowler’ more than ‘Harbhajan the batsman’.
"If it is a situation like at Ahmedabad where we were left saving the match, I would definitely not mind Harbhajan the batsman," Dhoni said.
But with strike bowler Zaheer Khan ruled out because of a groin strain, there is no doubt now as to what Dhoni will need more in Nagpur.
"Zaheer has always got us wickets at different situations and in different conditions. He can reverse-swing and it is always tough bowling without him," Dhoni said.
In Zaheer’s absence, Harbhajan will be relied upon heavily to take wickets, and will need a sharp improvement on his current bowling form if that is to happen.
The 30-year-old off-spinner claimed a solitary wicket at Ahmedabad. He had five at Hyderabad, including four in the first innings, which had little impact on the match. The off-spinner has a mediocre 31 wickets from his previous nine Tests.
Harbhajan’s form with the bat does give India the option of including an extra bowler in an attempt to break down a stubborn New Zealand batting line-up, but Dhoni was unsure.
"It will be a tough decision for us because we are comfortable playing four bowlers and I don’t think it is right to term Harbhajan an all-rounder. It will be harsh on him and put undue pressure on him. We should only enjoy his batting," said Dhoni.
New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori believes his team has a chance to claim a famous series victory, given the form of his batsmen and the discipline of his bowlers, saying "we are looking at winning the series."
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Murali Vijay, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Suresh Raina, Cheteshwar Pujara, Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Amit Mishra, Jaidev Unadkat, Ishant Sharma, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth.
New Zealand: Daniel Vettori (captain), Tim McIntosh, Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson, Gareth Hopkins, Brent Arnel, James Franklin, Chris Martin, Andy McKay, Jeetan Patel, Jesse Ryder, Tim Southee, B.J. Watling.(AP)