Happy Birthday Harbhajan Singh: Reliving THAT 2001 Test Series Vs Australia
For 90s kids who had recently grown fond of cricket, it wasn’t a familiar sight to see India excel against powerhouses like Australia, especially in Test cricket. But led by a resolute captain, Team India was out to change exactly this perception around the summer of 2001.
A bunch of performers stood up to hand Australia a historic series defeat, that too coming back from 1-0 down.
And while there were many batsmen who played their parts during this memorable bilateral series, one man who stood out for Sourav Ganguly’s men with the ball was Harbhajan Singh — especially in the absence of an injured Anil Kumble and even Javagal Srinath who was forced out by a broken finger during the first match.
It’s the Turbantor’s birthday today and it won’t be a hyperbole to call this series the most unforgettable one of his Test career.
On the verge of a series loss — following on in the second Test after losing the first –India’s fortunes were overturned by a famous VVS Laxman-Rahul Dravid partnership as they lit up the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. In consequence, Australia were set a daunting target of 384 on the final day.
I remember watching the match with the elder male members of my family who unanimously shared the verdict that the match is headed towards a draw. On the other hand, the childish me was sure that India would win.
They had both logic and history on their side. And with an opening stand of 74 between Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, even the present was favouring their prediction.
But it was then time for the first innings hero Bhajji to stand up, yet again and give children like me a belief that even India could pull off wins out of nowhere.
After claiming a seven-wicket haul on Day one, including the first hattrick by an Indian bowler in Test history, the offie snapped six wickets after the first session as the Kangaroos stumbled from 106 for 1 to 212 allout.
The spell dug India out of the pits and put them right back in the series ahead of the final Test in Chennai.
Steve Waugh’s men failed to find a response to the Punjab spinner’s trickery in the first innings of the match as he ended with another seven-wicket haul, including a spell of 6/26. The then 21-year-old followed it up with 8/84 in the second and even struck the winning runs later as India went on to record a legendary series win.
He was recognised as the Man of the Series with 32 wickets in all, whereas none of his compatriots could manage more than 3.
The Wisden 100 in 2002 rated all four of Harbhajan’s efforts in the Second and Third Tests among the top 100 bowling performances of all time, the most for any bowler. Bhajji called it a tribute to his father, who had passed away six months earlier.
And while the Turbanator might not be in his prime anymore, we will always remember him for performances like these, the tales of which will surely be passed on to generations of cricket fans to come.
So here’s raising a toast to the man on his 37th birthday. Janamadina mubāraka Bhajji!
Main image: ESPN