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Bhajji now a part of folklore

Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore the Jalandhar tweaker, writes Pradeep Magazine.

cricket Updated: Mar 08, 2008 01:44 IST

Let us not talk too much of the tiresome, prolonged functions where the cricketers are incidental to the celebrations. Let us not dwell too much on how politicians and businessmen take advantage of the mind-numbing live coverage for hours in the electronic media, followed the next day in print.

Let us focus on the man who has by now surely passed into folklore. When the story of India's triumph in Australia is written, one man will be talked about much more than the others. No, I am not talking about Sachin Tendulkar.

Let us give the devil its due: Harbhajan Singh, the man who launched a thousand controversies and, somehow, in the end, emerged as a genuine hero. Love him or hate him, you just can't ignore him anymore.

In 2001 he was the real artful dodger, who with his turn and twists, bemused the world champions so much that the Australians were ambushed by underdogs India.

From a man who was known more for being a troublemaker, Harbhajan came of age in that series and was even talked of in the same breath as Erapalli Prasanna. He had entangled the world's best team in a web of skilful deception and by the end of the series; Ricky Ponting's bat had only raw edges to it.

The rivalry between the two had begun but its sharp edges got blunted by Harbhajan's loss of control over his bowling and Ponting's emergence as the world's most prolific run-getter.

We have never seen Harbhajan bowl like that ever again or, to be more accurate, never seen him dominate batsmen like he did in that series ever.

The images of the man that flash across the mind are his vulgar display of exuberance after taking a wicket, kicking the ball, screaming and gesticulating as if he was the lone man standing over a heap of corpses. His over-the-top reaction even after dismissing someone who had scored a hundred was not something that would endear him to many.

But no one even then, denied him his due: that he was a fighter to the core but somehow his bowling had lost the edge and hence there were not many backers for his antics on the field.

Fast-forward this story to Australia 2008, against the backdrop of his rivalry with the Australians, the more recent of its manifestations being his skirmishes with Symonds on Indian soil just preceding this series. When monkeygate spiralled out of control, there were many who may not have had too much sympathy for him.

As the series went along, with each day creating more news off the field and Harbhajan being at the centre of a hundred storms — with the Australian media and public hounding him as if he was a criminal on the run from a mental asylum — it became hard not to sympathise with him. More so as he braved boos and jeers of the crowd — some of it downright racist — with an aggressive calm, where lesser mortals would have broken down by now. His final act of heroics came in the two finals. From being almost decimated by his two opponents — Hayden and Symonds — to forcing them into indiscretion, Harbhajan had turned a corner.

He had shown himself to be a man made of steel where all the pressure on him had found an outlet in his skills as a bowler.
In the second final, he was at his best; bowling an almost mesmeric length and once again it was his spell that created a major breach in the Australian plan to launch a counter-offensive on the bowlers.

For Indian cricket this series could well be the defining moment in our history. For Harbhajan this series could well mean stepping into a new world, provided he has learnt the right lessons from the world he was already living in.