Harbhajan Singh: A look at the career and legacy of a match-winner who never held back

Ricky Ponting is one of the greatest batsmen to ever play cricket. He has tormented bowlers and bowling attacks throughout his career. It took a massive amount of skill to dismiss the Australian legend.

But what if we told you there is a bowler who has dismissed him a whopping ten times? Ten dismissals of Ponting in Test cricket is a career-making achievement. Who is this bowler, then? It is none other than Harbhajan ‘Bhajji’ Singh.

Hurt' Harbhajan Singh Declares He's Ready To Make India Comeback
Harbhajan Singh (pictured) is one of India’s best bowlers ever. Source: outlookindia.com

Harbhajan is a right-arm off-spin bowler hailing from India. The aforementioned Ponting must have nightmares of him in his sleep. He is one of the best bowlers of this generation, and was a vital cog of India’s bullish bowling attack in his prime.

Bowled over by Bhajji

Among off-spin bowlers, Harbhajan is the second-highest wicket-taker in Test cricket history. Only Muttiah Muralitharan has more. He is also the third-highest wicket-taker among Indian bowlers. His style of bowling and the spin he puts on the ball outfoxes batsmen like nothing else.

An attacking bowler, Harbhajan is renowned for his superb ball control and ability to alter the pace and length of his deliveries. Some of his best deliveries see him whip a ball which steadily climbs at the batsman from a good length.

The spin on it alters the course of the ball’s trajectory, and the batsman is bamboozled and tries to change his shot. But the only thing that changes is the scorecard with a wicket for Harbhajan’s team.

Harbhajan Singh Had The Capability to Finish With 700 Test Wickets: Saqlain  Mushtaq | Cricket News
In his prime, Harbhajan was a monster with the ball in his hand. Source: india.com

It’s not just his wicket-taking skill that sets him apart. Harbhajan is also capable of bowling economically-crucial overs, establishing himself as a complete bowler. Over 60% of his wickets have come via catches, showing his clever delivery placement.

His partnership with Anil Kumble is one of the best bowling partnerships in the history of the game. Harbhajan’s off-spin and Kumble’s leg-spin wrecked batting line-ups left and right.

‘The Turbanator’, as he is called, became the first Indian bowler to take a hat-trick in Test cricket. This was in a series victory over Australia, where Harbhajan announced himself to the world. After his 32-wicket haul in the series, there was no doubt who India’s leading spin bowler was.

Dip in performance and subsequent drop

However, his prime only lasted for a short while. Mediocre performances in later years saw him excluded from India’s squads in recent years. He resorted to honing his craft in domestic cricket, particularly the IPL.

Having played for three teams, Harbhajan is one of the most prominent bowlers in IPL history. Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders have all availed his services, and at least the first two have reaped rewards. It is Harbhajan’s first season with KKR, and unfortunately, the season is suspended at the time of writing.

Harbhajan Singh Mumbai Indians Photo | Sports Mirchi
Harbhajan Singh celebrates with Mumbai Indians’ IPL title. Source: sportsmirchi.com

Harbhajan played a pivotal role in MI’s success in the IPL, helping them to three titles. In the IPL, he altered his game to become an economy bowler rather than pure wicket-taker. He jumped ship to rivals CSK after a decade-long association with MI, and bullied batsmen in yellow as well. The Padma Shri recipient may no longer have an international career left, and may have regressed, but he is still class.

Perhaps Harbhajan’s X-factor is his ability with the bat. Despite being a bowler, he has had some knocks with the bat that would put some proper batsmen to shame. He has recorded a few half-centuries in Test cricket, but he has played some explosive innings as well.

His general aggression on the pitch, combined with his hand-eye coordination, makes sure he is a batting threat. His two Test centuries against New Zealand in 2010 come to mind, as does his jaw-dropping 64 off 24 balls for MI. The latter was an absolute revelation of an innings, and despite his team losing, Harbhajan received a standing ovation for his performance.


Case for greatness

Bhajji, however, has been embroiled in various controversies. Known for his brash attitude and outspoken nature, Harbhajan has never backed down from conflict. His 1998 ban, his abuse of Andrew Symonds and his slapping of KXIP‘s Sreesanth were all unnecessary incidents that didn’t do him any favours.

Many have called him out for his lack of discipline. They have argued that this, coupled with his regression in performances, diminishes his claim to being an all-time great.

While that is certainly debatable, what isn’t in doubt is that in his prime, Harbhajan was unplayable. Whether it was picking wickets in spades, hitting swashbuckling sixes or even getting under the skin of his opponents, he did it all. As he approaches the twilight years of his career, let us appreciate him for what he brought to the pitch.

At his best, Harbhajan was a serial match winner, and put in a shift every match. For his contributions with the ball, bat and theatrics, he will go down as an Indian cricketing great. No one can doubt his credentials or his class.

Ask Ricky Ponting if you are still unconvinced. He may mutter “Singh is King” even in his sleep.

Read more: Has the time finally come for Dhoni to play a more auxiliary role for CSK?

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