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Harbhajan Singh: A problem child or a major menace?

Harbhajan’s list of misdemeanours, in its entirety, is beyond the scope of this piece, but he’s always been a problem child, writes Anand Vasu.

cricket Updated: Apr 27, 2008 02:52 IST
Anand Vasu

Harbhajan Singh has grown to be 27 years old, played international cricket for a decade and is one of the more experienced members of a young Indian team. But he’s never referred to as one of the senior players. If you examine his behaviour on and off the field in the time he has had the honour of wearing the India cap, you will find more skirmishes than in the odd border clash.

Harbhajan’s list of misdemeanours, in its entirety, is beyond the scope of this piece, but he’s always been a problem child. He’s one of the few to be thrown out of the National Cricket Academy for allegedly tearing up a menu the dietician set for the players and demanding his paranthas and butter. He then went after Ricky Ponting in his debut ODI series and was slapped with a fine. In 2002 he scrapped with the Guwahati police outside the team hotel for not letting a friend of his in. But nothing was worse than the recent monkey-gate scandal.

Could it be that it was success, and not failure, that has hindered him the most? Perhaps the success in the Australia series of 2001, when India came back from the dead and the Turbanator scalped 32 wickets in three Tests, was the worst thing that happened to him.

Sure, he may have come from a reasonably humble background, but as the only son in a family of three daughters, Harbhajan was a favourite, a mamma’s boy. That’s their business. But it’s not quite the same when you are representing your country. Harbhajan has been at the crossroads many times, when he could have taken the difficult yet right decision as opposed to the easier, more populist one — and has always failed to live up to his stature.

When his bowling lost a bit of its zip and went flat, quite literally, with batsmen mostly having to negotiate a middle-and-leg-stump line, he came in for some criticism. The way to stop the slide would have been to look at what he was doing wrong. In Anil Kumble, Harbhajan had a perfect role model, a man who had to re-invent his bowling in Tests after a shoulder injury took some zip off his lethal, fast sliders. Instead, Bhajji looked for excuses. He blamed the then skipper, Rahul Dravid, for not ‘handling him’ properly, even when Dravid regularly chose him over Kumble as the lone spinner in one-dayers. Harbhajan cursed journalists who criticised him, and holds some grudges so firmly that he still doesn’t speak to some people he’s known a decade.

You may still overlook all that. But then you notice that Bhajji has had an air of untouchability about him in recent times. When the Board asked several cricketers to report for a fitness test, Bhajji — alongside Sachin Tendulkar, who was never asked — did not show up. It has been a strange and deeply loyal friendship between the two. It was Tendulkar, and his almost revered word, that bailed Harbhajan out in Australia. But Tendulkar has other things to do as well. He has to play cricket and can’t spend all his time looking out after someone who wavers between being a loveable rogue and a menace to (cricketing) society.