New Delhi, November 30: Former Australia opener Matthew Hayden feels Ravichandran Ashwin's stats are "simply phenomenal", but Harbhajan Singh had to shoulder more responsibility in his prime since he did not have the fast bowling support which the Tamil Nadu tweaker enjoys.
Ashwin recently broke Dennis Lillee's record to become the fastest bowler to 300 wickets in 54 Test matches. Hayden had faced Harbhajan in his prime and also watched young Ashwin from close quarters during his days with Chennai Super Kings.
"I think stats often lie. But having said that, some of the milestones show remarkable respect to Ravichandran Ashwin, who is the fastest to 300 wickets in Test cricket. Even if he (Ashwin) plays for another five years, he would be remembered as one of the greats of his generation. His skill-set, like Harbhajan, is masterful but he is probably not as attacking off-spinner as Harbhajan was," Hayden said.
He put the comparison in context by taking into account the kind of bowling attacks these two had for support. "But then Ashwin, doesn't really need to be as attacking as Bhajji. His role within this side is well-defined by a slightly better fast bowling attack (as support cast) than what my generation was facing. You line-up Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and put Jasprit Bumrah into the mix with Jadeja as the second spinner as well. So Ashwin is playing his role and doing it successfully," Hayden explained.
"Harbhajan ,I thought, in his era was 'the dominant bowler', especially against Australia. So if Bhajji wasn't taking wickets, India were in trouble. I don't think Venkatesh Prasad was a wonderful Test match bowler. I think Harbhajan was the lone role maker.
"With due respect, Zaheer Khan or Javagal Srinath were wonderful bowlers but I think they were less of a threat compared to guys that are there now," Hayden said.
However, when asked to compare Virat Kohli and Steve Smith, Hayden said both are destined for greatness in their own way. "Kohli, Smith, Joe Root and Kane Williamson are vastly different players and good thing about all these guys is that each one of them is stepping on greatness in their own unique ways along with Cheteshwar Pujara and his Rahul Dravid-like approach to Test cricket," the burly Queenslander said. "Williamson's backfoot play and ability to play the ball late in all conditions is something we haven't seen in modern players. Kohli's cover drive and ability to attack bowlers with quality running between the wickets and the manner in which he plays spin is unique.
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"Now come to Smith, with his unorthodox back-and-across type of approach - with that technique you might say he should not have achieved anywhere near what he is. The reality is that High Performance coaches should understand that there is not one right technique, most of it is between your left and right ear. These guys are great players as in their heads, they have got it spot on."
Quiz him on an imaginary battle between Kohli and Glenn McGrath's probing off-stump line, Hayden said Kohli would have found a way like all great players do. "You can cast shadow over technique and everyone has their own flaws but reality is that they overcome those deficiencies with application and commitment. So Kohli would have done fine against Glenn I think," Hayden said.