Harbhajan Singh will finally play his 100th Test today, against Australia — the same opponent against whom he made his debut over a decade and a half ago (March, 1998).
It’s no wonder then that left-arm spinner Murali Kartik, who had a prolonged battle with Harbhajan for a place in India’s playing XI, is surprised that the landmark figure has come this late in the veteran spinner’s career.
“I am quite surprised… it (100 Tests) should have happened a lot earlier. He has been in and out of the Indian side in recent times. It’s a great achievement nevertheless,” Chennai-based Kartik told MiD DAY yesterday. Harbhajan fell out of favour with the national selectors following some poor performances and an injury during the second Test (his Test No 98) in Nottingham that ruled him out for the rest of the 2011 England tour. He had to wait for another 12 Tests before playing his 99th Test — the second match against England at the Wankhede Stadium last November. The perky spinner was dropped after that however, before being recalled for the Australia series.
“It’s a well-deserved landmark for Bhajji. Very few are able to achieve this milestone. It is a very special moment in any cricketer’s career. It is certainly not easy to reach 100 Tests. He’s a true champion,” Kartik said.
In an Harbhajan-less Indian team, Kartik would have definitely played a lot more matches than eight Tests and 37 ODIs. On several occasions Bhajji pipped Kartik as Anil Kumble’s spinning partner.
Kartik however reminisced some happy moments spent with Harbhajan. “During the Zimbabwe tour (triangular series in 2005), our batters were not getting the runs they desired. Bhajji being Bhajji said in jest ‘70 balle hai hamare paas phir bhi runs nahi ho rahe’ (We have around 70 bats here, but runs are still not coming). The dressing room burst into laughter,” he said.
Kartik recalled another funny Harbhajan moment, during the Wankhede ODI against Australia in 2007. “Bhajji had a tough day with the ball (7-0-31-0). He wasn’t getting wickets and Zak (Zaheer Khan) dropped an easy catch (that of Brad Haddin at deep square leg) off Bhajji’s bowling. Bhajji was fuming. Later, Bhajji took a catch and while celebrating it, tried to kick the ball rugby style. However, the ball hit him on the ankle instead and that hurt. It was quite funny,” said Kartik, who had a memorable outing in that match claiming 6-27 — the best figures by a left-arm spinner in ODIs. Kartik thereafter scored an unbeaten 21.