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Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Harbhajan Singh is born - when passion meets skill

India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni (L) and Harbhajan Singh
India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni (L) and Harbhajan Singh
©Reuters

July 3, 1980 - When former Indian batsman Navjot Singh Sidhu faced Harbhajan Singh for the first time, he instantly predicted that the off-spinner would go on to play 100 Tests for India. As per Sidhu, seeing the revs on the ball and the zip it got after pitching, he knew that the kid was special.

 

Harbhajan was among the group of young Indian cricketers including Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra on whom Sourav Ganguly showered unwavering faith. The Indian skipper had an eye for talent and he had seen the skill in these guys to excel at the highest level. It was just about being patient and giving them a long rope.

The Turbanator, as he was named by the Australian media, did repay the captain's faith. His breakthrough series in international cricket was the 2001 Australia tour of India where he picked up 32 wickets from three Test matches, including the first hat-trick by an Indian.

Harbhajan Singh rates the series at par with his two World Cup winning experiences in 2007 and 2011.

The off-spinner was part of two World Cup winning Indian teams. He was one of the senior guys in terms of international experience, alongside Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, who were part of the Indian squad for the 2007 T20 World Cup after big guns like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid were not too keen on participating.

 

 

The off-spinner picked up 7 wickets from as many matches. More importantly, he bowled at an economy rate of 6 RPO, which was more than handy. He was instrumental in winning India the semi-final against Australia as he yorked Michael Clarke towards the the end of the match.

In a game in which 361 runs were scored from 40 overs at an average of over 9, Bhajji conceded runs at just 6 RPO from his 4 overs.

By the time the 2011 World Cup arrived, he was nowhere near his best, with Ravichandran Ashwin breathing down his neck. The off-spinner did a decent job, picking up 9 wickets in the tournament from as many games.

The passionate cricketer has had his fair share of controversy as well. The 2008 India tour of Australia came close to being called off after he was involved in the monkeygate controversy with Andrew Symonds. Harbhajan was also banned from an entire season of the IPL after slapping S Sreesanth.

By 2011, Harbhajan had played his best cricket and was dropped for the Test team. He made a couple of comebacks but wasn't half as effective as in his pomp. The spinner played only five Test matches between 2012 and 2015 and hasn't played a Test since.

He made an inspired comeback into the Indian ODI team in 2015 and did a decent job but with age not on his side, the selectors seem to have moved on.

Harbhajan currently stands at the 13th spot in the list of all-time wicket-takers in Test cricket with 417 scalps from 103 Test matches at an average of 32.46 and a strike rate of 68.5. The spinner is the third-highest wicket-taker for India behind Anil Kumble and Kapil Dev.

Harbhajan is still active in the Indian Premier League and has moved bases from Mumbai Indians to Chennai Super Kings lately. He did a fine job for CSK in the last edition as well. 

Harbhajan still harbours hopes of making a comeback to the national team. Some may call it a bit too optimistic, but the Turbanator hasn't known any other way.

 

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