Chennai: Harbhajan Singh's wait for the landmark of 100 Test matches has ended with confirmation of his presence in the series opener in Chennai against Australia coming from the man himself on the eve of the first Test. He will become the 10th Indian cricketer to have played 100 or more Tests.
Harbhajan found himself stranded on 98 Test caps when injury struck during the 2011 tour of England, but was recalled for his 99th when England toured in late 2012. That match proved disappointing for Harbhajan, who had match figures of 2 for 84 - both wickets of tailenders - as India were hammered by ten wickets in Mumbai. The offspinner was promptly dropped from the Test team.
He was recalled for the first two Tests against Australia following his 16 wickets at 32.25 in the Ranji Trophy and five wickets, three of them in Mumbai's first innings, while captaining Rest of India to the Irani Trophy recently. Harbhajan boast an impressive record against Australia in Tests - 90 wickets at 29.35 - and it is poignant that he will play his 100th against them. It was against Australia in the epic series of 2001 that he shot to fame with 32 wickets in three Tests.
Harbhajan's confirmation on the eve of the Test that he will play his 100th Test - he received a congratulatory tweet from the BCCI soon after - indicates that India may go in with four spinners. However, it is more a sign of desperation as the team seeks for answers to a match-winning combination. India have three pace bowlers to choose from, but considering that they consist of an inconsistent Ishant Sharma and the uncapped Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ashok Dinda it is likelier that the management banks on spin.
India last played four slow bowlers against England in Nagpur last December - R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Piyush Chawla and Ravindra Jadeja - and they could repeat the pattern. Chawla is not around, but the team has three frontline spinners and Jadeja's left-arm option to pick. The other possibilities are that Ashwin is dropped and two pacers are picked. Dropping Jadeja would deprive the team of their allrounder at No. 7.
The pitch at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai is apparently very dry, which lends credence to the thought that India will field four spinners. Australian captain Michael Clarke jokingly mused in the pre-match press conference how it was not possible to shave off any more grass from the surface because there was no grass left to be shaved, but his words also hint that the conditions will reverse. That would give Australia a distinct advantage because they have named four fast bowlers in their playing XI.