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Exit Dhoni. Enter Bhajji.

by Naked Cricket

Are India’s team selections being choreographed?

Why has Harbhajan Singh been picked in the Test squad? His first class numbers from last season don't quite add up - he played three matches for just six wickets. None of those matches made prime time TV though. But that one over in the Indian Premier League (IPL) playoffs where he dismissed Raina and Dhoni off successive deliveries made headlines. And that's the very nature of Bhajji-the-beast: he makes headlines. If those two wickets weren't enough, he threw in twin celebrations that sealed it. Followed by a dropped caught and bowled in that very over. Did you see the remorse? Injured finger? Hurt Bhajji? Harbhajan Singh, the once hugely successful soap opera, was back. What's the very purpose of soap operas - eyeballs, TRPs, roller coaster! What's the very purpose of Bhajji? Cricket may leave him but the melodrama never will.
It took two deliveries for the guy who dared to lift Nita Ambani off her feet to lift all of Wankhede. But does it warrant a Test spot? It's not as if Bangladesh had been invited to play Bhajji's farewell Test at his new home ground in Mumbai. His 16 wickets in 14 IPL games could have been the route to an One Day International (ODI) spot - but MS Dhoni is still India's ODI captain.
Harbhajan had not been picked in the ODI squad because the selection panel felt "chopping and changing or disturbing the combination" of the team that had reached the World Cup semi-finals was unnecessary - Sandeep Patil, Chairman of selectors (Read as Dhoni felt).
After Virat Kohli's ascent, it may appear that Dhoni's powers are on the wane but his turf remains as defined as ever - if anything, retiring from Tests may help MS strengthen his hold on the ODI and T20 teams. Way back to N Srinivasan and Chennai Super Kings' (CSK) earliest days, Dhoni's say in selection has been near absolute. The national squad invariably had his men, quite a few of them, CSK boys. To his credit, he handed his boys a rope long enough to play stress-free cricket. So for every Ravindra Jadeja that refuses to come around, there's a Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma who turns it around. Not to forget, Suresh Raina, always lurking on the sidelines of Test selection. For way too long, Dhoni's patience with Bhajji in the dressing room made another off spinner, R Ashwin cool his heels in the waiting room.
Harbhajan was once Dhoni's business partner. Perhaps they were even buddies. Very much doubt that's the case now. In 2010, Bhajji appeared in Royal Stag's "Have I made it large?" advertisement, set in his father's ball bearing factory. Soon after, Dhoni appeared in a spoof that showed a Bhajji lookalike being slapped by an agitated father. It didn't go down too well with either Bhajji or his family. They demanded the ad be pulled off the air.Here is Bhajji's "Make it large" ad followed by a spoof with Dhoni.

Bhajji last played a Test over two years ago in March 2013, under Dhoni. His inclusion in that home series was as much a surprise as is his selection for the solitary Bangladesh Test. In his last Test innings, he appeared to have been underbowled compared to the two other spinners, Ashwin and Jadeja. He went wicketless in his ten overs.
One of the reasons cited for the 34-year-old off spinner's return is the surfeit of left handed batsmen in the Bangladesh team. There's also the first choice off spinner, Ashwin and the two-Test-old leggie, Karn Sharma in the squad, but chances are that Bhajji will play. Is this a golden handshake for his long, dramatic service to Indian cricket: he made his Test debut in March, 1998? Bhajji, on the other hand, says he's ready to play for another four-five years. Question is, like in the IPL, will he bowl four overs in each innings of the Bangladesh Test? Bhajji's answer: One tight slap.

First published here

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