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Harbhajan upset with pace-friendly wicket

Last updated on: April 03, 2008 20:26 IST

India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh on Thursday came down hard on the pitch at the Sardar Patel stadium in Ahmedabad saying pitches must be prepared to suit the home bowlers.

SA in command at Motera

Electing to bat, India were shot out for a lowly 76 in 20 overs and in reply South Africa posted a healthy 223 for four at close on day one of the second Test.

All the Indian wickets went to the South African pacers, led by Dale Steyn, who claimed five for 23 with a magnificent display of swing and bounce.

"As I said, the Indian team's strength is spin. No doubt we have good young fast bowlers but till today all the matches we have won in India is because of our strength and that is spin bowling. And what we are seeing nowadays is that pitches are being changed constantly and the clay is being changed. Previously we used to get positive results for India, but now we see a lot of draws being played out and results going against the Indian team," Harbhajan said.

The off-spinner is baffled as to why wickets in the country have been so much in the recent past. Instead of preparing tracks to support the slower bowlers, the curators have produced wickets with pace and bounce, said Harbhajan, which he believes is a handicap for the hosts.

"Last time when we played here, there was red soil. But now I don't see red soil anywhere, not in Madras [Chennai] and even here the clay is not red, it has been changed. Obviously there is grass too. Every team plays to their strength [at home] and we should also do the same," he said.

It was India's second lowest total playing at home after the 75 against the West Indies at Delhi in November 1987.

India's worst efforts in Test cricket

"It was one of the bad days I have seen in my last 10 years. I can't really say much on what went wrong, everything went wrong basically. You can't really do anything about it. Whatever has happened, it has happened and gone. Now we have to look to get back into the game," Harbhajan quipped.

Harbhajan said the batsmen need to take the blame for not applying themselves. He believes that the batters just carried from Chennai, where they played on a flat track, and played irresponsible shots.

"We need to take the blame; we didn't apply ourselves and we played a lot of casual shots. You can't really complain about the wickets. Whatever wicket we get we have to play on it. You have to play according to the wicket. You can't go and just swing your bat like you did in Chennai. It is a different wicket and you have to apply ourselves. We take the blame and even I take the blame. I think I should have got some runs for the team, but I didn't and I take the blame for not getting those runs," he said.

He further added that it was just the question of playing out the first hour as is the case with any wicket, but the batsmen failed to deliver.

"It is a green top. We knew that it would be a good wicket to bat on and it was just a matter of playing the first one and half hour and it is for any wicket. As I said we should have batted much better than we did today.

We don't want to think about it, it is just a bad dream. We were in a similar situation in Kolkata in 2001 against Australia. It can be great if we can pull the match from where we are now. It would be great for Indian cricket if we can do so," said Harbhajan.

Incidentally on this same pitch, the Indian pacers came up with yet another lacklustre display. S Sreesanth took one for 53 in 15 overs, while RP Singh (13 overs) and Irfan Pathan (8) went wicketless. Harbhajan Singh was the most successful bowler, with a haul of three of 49 in 16 overs, despite not getting enough purchase from the wicket.

"I think we will have to get them out. In Chennai we could not get them out, but here we are hoping we get them out and we will see from there onwards. We will have to bowl well to get those wickets because they are good players. We will have to bowl according to our field and try to pick those wickets, which will be important for us," the offie said.

Harbhajan also said that with pacers not getting early wickets, the spinners were finding it difficult.

"It is always important to get early wickets with the new ball, but it has not been happening in this series. There is nothing wrong with our fast bowlers. They have been picking a lot of wickets whenever they have played. It is unfortunate that they have not been able to pick early wickets, but they are all good bowlers. And hopefully they will do the job tomorrow," he said.

Last time, India played a Test match here, Harbhajan snapped up 10 wickets in India's 259-run victory over Sri Lanka in November 2006. Hence it was but natural that the off-spinner was expecting another rank turner.

"I thought we would get a similar wicket that we got when we played Sri Lanka last time. But you can't really do anything about it. Whatever wicket you get, you have to play on it."

When asked if the Indian team believes they can come back and win the match, Harbhajan replied: "Victory is a bit too far at the moment. We will have to play really good cricket from tomorrow onwards to stay in this game. South Africa bowled really well, got us and they were right on the track from the first ball. Tomorrow we will have to play with a different plan and see if we can play some tough cricket and get back into the game."

Harish Kotian in Ahmedabad