Harbhajan Singh, one of the arch-nemeses of Ricky Ponting, lavished praise on the former Australian captain who decided to retire from international cricket yesterday. The Perth Test that starts today against South Africa will be his last.
“He is one of the outstanding cricketers I have ever played against. He was very competitive and a match-winner for Australia for so many years,” Harbhajan told MiD DAY yesterday.
Ponting was Harbhajan’s bunny, dismissing the Australian legend 10 times in seven Tests. “Like we had plans for all the cricketers, we had similar plans in place for Ponting. I am glad that most of the time it worked for me. He was a fierce competitor and brought out the best in me,” said Harbhajan, who is just one game away from his 100th Test.
The Harbhajan-Ponting rivalry started during the India vs Australia ODI series at Sharjah in 1998 when Harbhajan got the Tasmanian out stumped. The Turbanator was seen pointing him towards the dressing room. A vociferous Ponting returned verbal fire and also moved towards Harbhajan aggressively before the two were stopped. Harbhajan was fined and given a one-match suspension.
Harbhajan dismissed Ponting on all five occasions, including three ducks during the famous 2001 series in India. The second Test at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens was monumental for India and Harbhajan, who became the first Indian to claim a Test hat-trick after claiming Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne in successive balls. India’s shock win halted Australia’s 16-match winning streak with impressive performances from Harbhajan, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
During the 2007-08 tour to Australia, Harbhajan once again managed to claim Ponting’s wicket in three consecutive innings (once in the first Test and twice in the second match). Harbhajan celebrated the third dismissal during the infamous Sydney Test in an eventful manner by running a distance and twice rolling over the ground. The animosity between India and Australia culminated further when Bhajji was accused of racially abusing Andrew Symonds during the SCG Test in 2008.
It is not just with the ball that Harbhajan has been a thorn for Australia. During the 2008 Bangalore Test, the offie scored a gritty 54 and put on 80-run partnership with Zaheer Khan to reduce India’s deficit. It turned out to be a match-saving partnership as the match ended in a draw. Harbhajan dismissed Ponting again, but not before he scored a magnificent 123 in the first innings.
Upon his return for the fourth and final Test at Nagpur after a toe injury ruled him out for the third match, Harbhajan came back to haunt Ponting, dismissing him for the 10th time in Tests. It was also his 300th wicket.
Incidentally, most of Harbhajan’s Test milestones have involved Ponting, who was the spinner’s 50th , 250th and 300 th victim. “It was always a challenge to bowl to Ponting,” Harbhajan said. “I am happy to have some success against him. I am lucky to play against a great batsman. He will be definitely missed,” he added. For Harbhajan, Ponting’s most defining knock was played in the 2003 World Cup final in Johannesburg where he scored an unbeaten 140 as Australia posted a mammoth 359-2. “It was one of the best knocks I have ever seen. It cost us the game, but what a knock! It is one of my fondest memories of Ponting,” Harbhajan signed off.
Cricketing world lauds Ponting's career
As Australian legend Ricky Ponting announced his retirement from international game, the cricketing world congratulated the former captain for his brilliant career.
Compatriots and former teammates Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden and Shane Warne hailed their “Punter” and asked him to score a final century in his final Test.
Among his cricketing rivals, England’s Kevin Pietersen, West Indies Courtney Walsh and South Africa batsman Herschelle Gibbs also complimented the Australian great.