Parthasarthy, 60, brought his grandson to the ground as he wanted his old friend Harbhajan to meet the tiny cricket crazy boy. Hands shaken, picture taken, autograph signed, the spinner headed for the training area. That’s when the curator chipped in. “This pitch is like that game. Bowl like the champion that you are,” he said.
For the two, and many across India, that game happens to be final Test of the famous 2001 India-Australia series where Harbhajan took 15 wickets to get an intimidatingly new middle name. Twelve years later, against the same opposition and at the same venue that has witnessed his greatest high, Harbhajan ‘Turbanator’ Singh will be playing his 100th Test.
“I don’t know if I have a special connection with Australia, but it’s nice to see your name alongside with the greats like the Tendulkars, Sunny Gavaskars, and all the greats who have played for India in 100 Test matches,” he said.
Despite this significant milestone and a body of work that has more than 400 Test wickets, Harbhajan somehow failed to hold on to the Turbanator aura that he earned early in his career. Bowling alongside the all-knowing Anil Kumble for most part of his career, the offie could never emerge as India’s bowling spearhead after his mentor retired.
Injuries and the advent of T20 cricket saw him temporarily lose his loop and tweak. Hectic scheduling and growing age resulted in that energetic approach to the stumps going weak. Things didn’t go as they were predicted for the 21-year-old who took 32 wickets (and who also scored the winning runs in Chepauk) against Steve Waugh’s Dream Team.
At times he would get bitter about reports that spoke about his slump and also with underachievers who received long ropes. Then he would often be dropped for a home series on the basis of his ineffectiveness abroad. Invariably, the replacement spinner — welcomed by tailor-made tracks — would be an instant hit. As for Harbhajan, he would be written off once again. With age, the offie has taken this criticism in his stride.
“Everyone has got opinions. Even I’ve got my opinion about others, it’s not that I’m right all time. You’ve got to live with it,” he says.
In 2012, dropped while on 98 Tests, Harbhajan went for a County stint and returned a better bowler. Only to be drafted directly into the T20 squad. He again seemed flat in his only Test against England. Now Harbhajan is back in the mix, this time on the back of a modest domestic season for Punjab and also his Rest of India showing.
With 81 wickets from 12 Tests against Australia, he usually saves the best for the Aussies. Besides, it’s also the venue where he played ‘that’ Test.