Harbhajan finally turns on New Zealand

Superlatives were justifiably heaped on Sachin Tendulkar following his sublime century at Seddon Park, though Harbhajan Singh's bearing on India's victory is also ominous for the BLACKCAPS as the test cricket series continues.

While Tendulkar's prolific run scoring was hardly unexpected, India's premier slow bowler had actually experienced little personal satisfaction against New Zealand until his career-best six for 63 over the weekend.

Until Harbhajan spun his web, the 28-year-old's seven previous tests against New Zealand had been fairly unremarkable.

A bag of three for 33 at Kanpur a decade ago was Harbhajan's personal best; until his second visit to Hamilton he had 17 wickets at 38.94 against New Zealand -- costly compared to his overall average of 30.88 from 75 tests.

However, the right arm spinner improved his success rate significantly as New Zealand finally crumbled for 279 in their second innings on Sunday, the precursor to India's 10-wicket win, and their first triumph on New Zealand soil since 1976.

Harbhajan's threat was not apparent in New Zealand's first turn at bat, he took one for 57 from 22 overs though admittedly the home side were in disarray at 60 for six before really he got into his work.

But he made his mark late Friday when Martin Guptill's solid 48 ended when he drove uppishly to Virender Sehwag.

The stroke was poorly timed -- Guptill's 68-run stand with Daniel Flynn ended in sight of stumps -- but in the opener's defence he was out foxed by the delivery pitching shorter than expected.

Harbhajan also claimed the key wickets of Flynn at bat pad and Jesse Ryder leg before wicket when he was too slow to a adjust to a ball that straightened.

James Franklin was deceived in flight and played aerially to point; Harbhajan then had Daniel Vettori caught behind and Iain O'Brien caught in close, albeit off the pad.

Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni thought Harbhajan's breakthrough five wicket haul could be a precursor to what might transpire at Napier's McLean Park from Thursday, after scrutinising New Zealand's approach from behind the stumps.

"Though there wasn't much help for the spinner, they didn't go after him," Dhoni said.

"And once you allow a bowler of his calibre to get on top of you, more often than not he will get wickets or contain you.

"It will be important to see him through throughout the test series, because he is the kind of bowler if he starts getting wickets, game after game, he will continue to do so."

Harbhajan, who now has 321 test scalps, still has his flaws. During his career he has been dogged by accusations that the longer he takes to made an initial breakthrough the quicker and flatter he delivers.

There were signs of that as Ryder and Vettori constructed New Zealand's only meaningful partnership of the match -- 186 for the seventh wicket in the first innings.

But in the second innings he varied his pace throughout and the batsmen were generally rooted to the crease.

New Zealand coach Andy Moles, aware it was possible to frustrate the feisty Harbhajan, said it was imperative to keep him wicket less as long as possible.

"When we're not losing wickets to him, when he had people playing 10-15 overs against him we saw he has to go away from original game plans," he said.

"We have to make sure he bowls plenty of balls before he gets success."

NZPA

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