Harbhajan Singh, the first man to register a hat-trick in Test cricket for India is turning 38 today (July 03, 1980). This man from Punjab made his ODI and Test debut in 1998 at the age of 18 years. With the nickname Turbanator, he is the third leading wicket-taker for India in Tests.
Fondly known as “Bhajji”, he crafted a niche for himself in his journey by playing top level cricket with all-time greats and indeed he is a great ambassador for the game. Harbhajan's journey is of course with lots of ups and downs.
On this special occasion, let's rewind the famous Border-Gavaskar 2001 series against Australia in which Harbhajan Singh's bowling helped India to win the 3-match Test series by 2-1.
Harbhajan Singh with his windmilling and whiplash action startled many top class batsmen in the 2000's. His career was initially affected by the legal investigations made into his bowling action, however, he worked hard to remodel his style of bowling which was later accepted by the ICC.
Harbhajan with his high arm action gets that extra bounce from the deck and his natural ability to land the cricket ball half on the seam and half on the leather allows the ball to grip and spin, which his peers lack in. Moreover, this master of Doosra ticks all the boxes of an ideal off-spinner.
At the age of 20, he lost his father and became the sole earning member of the family. At that moment, Harbhajan made up his mind to quit the game and decided to fly to the US and drive trucks to look after his mother and 5 sisters. Exactly at this juncture, the classic Border-Gavaskar 2001 series against Australia is scheduled and with Anil Kumble injured, Ganguly resuscitated Harbhajan's career by including him in the playing eleven.
Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2001
Australians landed in search of their first ever series victory on Indian soil since 1969 under the leadership of Steve Waugh. Harbhajan Singh was asked to lead the spin department in the 3 match Test series against the mighty Kangaroos, who were holding the record of 15 consecutive test victories at that period.
First Test At The Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai
In the first Test at Mumbai, In response to India's first innings score of 176, Harbhajan started off well by taking 3 wickets in quick time to keep Australia in some sort of bother at 99/5. But the huge 197 partnership between Gilchrist and Hayden helped Australians to win the match by 10 wickets as the Indian batsmen failed to score in the second innings too. Harbhajan took 4 wickets in this particular match.
Second Test At The Eden Gardens, Kolkata
The second Test began in Kolkata with even more burden on Harbhajan as the paceman Javagal Srinath ruled out of the series with an injury. Australians started the innings on a solid note and were in full control at 193/1. Harbhajan who was initially struck for sixes into the crowd fought back well in the final session. He took 5 wickets, including Ricky Ponting, Gilchrist and Shane Warne in successive balls to become the first Indian to claim a Test hat-trick and reduced Australia to 257/7. The visitors were bowled out for 445 and Harbhajan finished with 7/123.
In reply, India displayed poor batting performance and were asked to follow-on. Thanks to the historic record partnership of 346 runs between Laxman and Dravid, which helped India to set a huge target of 384 runs for Australia to chase on the final day. Until the final session, the Kangaroos looked like drawing the match comfortably with the score 166/3. But in an anti-climatic fashion, the visitors were bundled out for 212. All credits to Harbhajan, who registered 6/73 and total of 13/196 in both the innings. India became the third team to win a Test after being forced to follow on and eventually ended Australia's 16-match winning streak.
Third Test At The Chepauk Stadium, Chennai
The stage is set at the Chennai for the deciding test, where the Aussie batsmen took full control after winning the toss and scored 326/3 on day one. At the team score of 340/3 on the second day of play, Steve Waugh was given out for handling the ball while facing Harbhajan, as he pushed the ball away with his gloves that was spinning towards the stumps after hitting his pads. Then the lower order batsmen struggled to face the offspinner and collapsed for 391 in no time. This time Harbhajan figures were 7/133.
India batted well in the first innings, where all the top order batsmen scored and got a lead of 110. In the second innings too, the Australian batsmen fell prey to this Doosra bowler, who went on to take 8 wickets and his match figures showed 15/217. India chasing a meagre score of 155 had lost wickets in regular intervals and heading towards a series defeat. But in the end, India crossed the line with 2 wickets remaining, thanks to the debutant SS Dighe, who played out of his skin and Harbhajan Singh who scored the winning runs for India.
He was declared 'Man of the Match' for his figures (15/217) and 'Man of the Series' for his outstanding performance (32 wickets for the series).
In 2002 “The Wisden” rated Harbhajan's efforts in the second and third Tests in the top 100 bowling performances of all time. Thus, he paid a rich tribute to his father, who had died six months earlier. Moreover, the name “Turbanator” is the outcome of this historic series.
Birthday wishes from team EeYuva.