Harbhajan Singh, who will become the 10th Indian to play 100 Tests when he takes the field in the first Test against Australia here today, never thought he would play for so long for the country.
“I remember playing my first game under (Mohd) Azharuddin’s captaincy. It was in Bangalore, I was 17 and I had no clue about what was going to happen. I was just a little kid in the park, I was star-struck by these players. I never thought I’d play for India for this long and play 100 Test matches. God has been really kind. I would like to thank the Almighty for giving me this opportunity,” said Harbhajan on the eve of the match.
“It’s a big game. (The previous) 99 are gone. Obviously a bit nervous but I am sure I will be fine. I have faced these situations before,” the off-spinner added.
With 408 wickets from 99 Tests at an average of 32.27 and a strike-rate of 68.1, Harbhajan has been one of India’s most prolific bowlers even though he has been enduring a tough phase for some time.
“I have gone through times when I was not doing well or when I was doing well and got too excited. These things happen.
“I am a bit nervous to start with, but I will be fine. Once I get away with 100, we will see what needs to be done to play another 50-odd. Probably I will have to work even harder,” he added.
Highs and lows...
Reflecting on the highs and lows, Harbhajan said: “It’s been a journey with lots of ups and downs. No one can always be at the top and no one will always be down... You will have ups and down, like normal guys, doing routine things.
“What I’ve learnt from great players is to never give up. That made this team successful. These players showed us how to work hard.
“I’m very lucky, very proud that I’ve played with all these greats like Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid... because without their support I wouldn’t have achieved this.”
Harbhajan’s most significant milestones have come against Australia, but the offie said he doesn’t understand the connection with the team from Down Under.
“I don’t know if I have a special connection with Australia, but it’s nice to see your name alongside greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Sunny Gavaskar and all the greats who have played for India in 100 Test matches,” Harbhajan said.
Harbhajan’s Top Five Australian encounters...
>> Chennai, March 2001: Harbhajan claimed 15 wickets — his second successive Test tally of 10 or more scalps — as he guided India to a two-wkt win in the match and a phenomenal 2-1 series victory. His figures of 38.2-6-133-7 and 41.5-20-84-8 in both innings earned him the Man of the Match award. Only Narendra Hirwani (16 wkts) has more victims in a Test for India.
>> Kolkata, March 2001: Harbhajan returned with figures of seven for 123 in the first innings and six for 73 in the second as he, along with VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid, helped India to victory after being asked to follow-on — only the third such instance in Test cricket. In the process, he also registered the first ever Test hat-trick for his country.
>> Bangalore, October 2004: This was Bhajji’s third haul of 10 or more wickets against the Aussies. But this time he failed to guide India to victory. They lost by 217 runs. He captured five for 146 in the first innings and six for 78 in the second.
>> Mumbai, November 2004: In a low-scoring match, Harbhajan played a vital role as the visitors, chasing a target of 107, lost by 13 runs. After going wicket-less in the first innings, he opened the bowling in the final innings and returned with figures of 10.5-2-29-5. He got the crucial wickets of Matthew Hayden, Simon Katich and Adam Gilchrist before winding up the tail.
>> Nagpur, November 2008: It was an all-round performance from Harbhajan that helped India post a memorable 172-run victory.
He scored an unbeaten 18, a vital 52, and then claimed seven wickets — including those of star batsmen Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden and Shane Watson.