In the big league

Having crossed a milestone, one can expect Harbhajan Singh, 31, to scale greater heights. He is aiming for 600 Test wickets. Importantly, with his influence on the team as a senior and match-winner, and with his growing ability as a batsman, Harbhajan will be the key as India looks to tame England in the summer and later conquer Australia. By Vijay Lokapally.

Though he is a volatile, ambitious and scheming bowler, there is a smart side to Harbhajan Singh. He is one who quietly and calculatedly plots the dismissals of batsmen. Trust him to needle a batsman, away from the stump microphone and with an eye on the umpire, keep the man on strike waiting, irritate him, and then snipe. He more often than not has his way. In the process, he might lose direction, but he always stays at the centre of the action. That is Harbhajan Singh.

His on-field conduct isn't put-on. He makes no secret of his dislike for a person. “I hate hypocrites,” Harbhajan said once. A man of strong likes and dislikes, the Indian off-spinner can be a difficult man. But he can be humble too.

An off-spinner who loves to toss the ball, fire it in, and out, he sometimes forgets that he is a slow bowler. “I would love to add the bouncer,” he joked once. He is one who constantly experiments. Once he told the media, “I have developed a ‘teesra' (third variation).” This was followed by furious speculations that led to Harbhajan being bombarded with queries. He put the issue to rest when he said that it was all in jest.

Harbhajan, a distinguished star of Indian cricket with 400 Test wickets to his credit, is the uncrowned ambassador of Jalandhar. When he decided to pursue cricket — and not help his father in the pump-valves manufacturing unit — Harbhajan took a major step towards achieving his dream — “To play cricket and play top-class cricket”.

“I have seen some difficult periods. At some points, I lost my drive but fortunately I had helpful guidance every time I faltered. Cricket has taught me so much. I am learning still. I enjoy being competitive and nothing pleases me more than being in the thick of action,” Harbhajan had said during the last Indian Premier League.

What is best about Harbhajan?

“I can laugh at myself,” he says. It is a good quality indeed. He will be the first one to ridicule himself for a bad spell; admit that he was made to look ordinary after taking punishment from rampaging batsmen. He won't hesitate to joke that bowlers are considered “labour class” and batsmen “elite.”

Harbhajan's guiles on the field are well-documented and time and again hailed by the experts of the game. His strike power may have waned in recent times but he remains, by miles, the best off-spinner. It would be naïve to assume that he is being pushed by some youngsters for Harbhajan knows how to make his point. He hits back every time he is pulled down.

Nothing perturbs him. “I am made like that,” Harbhajan often says. He learns quickly from his failures and prospers. His amiable nature carries him past these stumbling blocks that confront him time and again.

With age, he has matured. As a senior member Harbhajan can be expected to play his role well. The fact that he loves to assume responsibility makes him a captain's delight. He is looking to play the role of an all-rounder now.

Harbhajan also knows how to remain focused (“By cracking jokes”). One is reminded of a cold winter afternoon in Mohali. While waiting for the Duleep Trophy match to restart, Harbhajan called up a colleague, spoke in a girl's voice, and invited the player to the main gate of the stadium. He repeated the act thrice and each time the player rushed enthusiastically to the main gate but returned with gloom spread over his face. The fourth call told the player to come to Hot Millions in Sector 35 at 7 p.m. Harbhajan, waiting for Rajeev Nayyar at the spot, greeted him in a girl's voice. They then had a good laugh, after which Harbhajan gave Nayyar a good treat at the Hot Millions.

On a few occasions, with his ability to mimic, he has sent players scurrying to the lobby or to the team manager's room for an urgent meeting!

Harbhajan with his success has emerged as a leading light of Indian cricket. He is hailed as one of the best off-spinners in contemporary cricket.

Having crossed a milestone, one can expect Harbhajan, 31, to scale greater heights. He is aiming for 600 Test wickets. Importantly, with his influence on the team as a senior and match-winner, and with his growing ability as a batsman, Harbhajan will be the key as India looks to tame England in the summer and later conquer Australia.

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Harbhajan's career highlights

Harbhajan Singh became the 11th bowler and only the third Indian to take 400 Test wickets when he bowled Carlton Baugh on the second day of the Roseau Test. He is also the fourth spinner and only the second off-spinner after Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan (800) to reach the 400-wicket mark.

• First Indian bowler to take a hat-trick in Tests — he achieved the feat against Australia in Kolkata in 2000-01 by dismissing Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne.

• The only Indian bowler to bag four consecutive five-for in Test cricket — 7-123 & 6-73 in Kolkata and 7-133 & 8-84 in Chennai against Australia in 2000-01.

• The only Indian bowler to take 10 wickets in two consecutive Tests — 13 for 196 in Kolkata and 15 for 217 in Chennai against Australia in 2000-01.

• Harbhajan's match figures of 15 for 217 against Australia in Chennai (2000-01) is the second best by an Indian bowler after Narendra Hirwani's 16 for 136 against the West Indies, also in Chennai, in 1987-88.

• Shares the Indian record of taking 50 wickets in a calendar year on three occasions with Anil Kumble. Harbhajan took 63 wickets in 2002, 63 in 2008 and 60 in 2001.

• Harbhajan captured 32 wickets against Australia in 2000-01 — the most by any spinner in a three-match series.

Compiled by Rajneesh Gupta