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Yearning for good times

There were two moments, on the second day of the third Test, which encapsulated Harbhajan Singh the bowler and the man. N Ananthanarayanan reports.

india Updated: Jul 08, 2011 22:27 IST
N Ananthanarayanan
N Ananthanarayanan
Hindustan Times

There were two moments, on the second day of the third Test, which encapsulated Harbhajan Singh the bowler and the man.

The first came when he snared skipper Darren Sammy to a bat-pad catch. He ran backwards, vociferously appealing, the fiery youth in him still intact. Umpire Asad Rauf had to point out that the batsman had already walked.

The next one came at the end of the day, when talking to media after reaching the 400-wicket milestone, Harbhajan showed that he has mellowed down over the last couple of years. He picked long-time adversary Ricky Ponting as the greatest batsman he has bowled to, saying he would rate him up there despite having taken his wicket so many times.

Milestones are seen as a reward for longevity, which itself is about talent and match-winning capabilities. Harbhajan, who is four short of 100 Tests, described his international career as a "journey" that began as a teenager versus Australia way back in 1998.

Only 10 bowlers in Test history have taken more wickets than him, two of them Indians. He can hope to surpass five of them, including Kapil Dev (434), who is sixth in that list, before India's busy current season ends. Harbhajan has already proved he is up there when it comes to the finest Indian bowlers and match-winners. At 31, he aims for a long run that can take him past his illustrious former teammate Anil Kumble (619), India's most successful and the third highest Test wicket-taker.

But what will it take for him to be spoken of as a great? On Thursday, Harbhajan played down some of the low points in his career, whether they were over his bowling action or behaviour on the pitch. He admitted aggression got the better of him at times, but did not want to elaborate and spoil his special moment.

"I am really happy and honoured to be with those greats who have done a lot for themselves and their countries by taking those 400 wickets," he said. "I am still young and have got a lot of cricket left in me. I just need to work hard and make sure I keep myself fit. If I do that I am sure I will be able to achieve something really special. Time is in my hand and it is up to me how badly I want to achieve it."

Harbhajan started the series just seven short of the mark, but struggled to get there. "I have worked really hard for all these wickets. These last seven wickets actually made me work even harder. Hopefully good times will start now and the next 200 will come quickly."

Harbhajan reached the milestone when he bowled West Indies 'keeper Carlton Baugh and showed how much it meant to him by getting the ball autographed by the batsman.

Harbhajan thanked his mentor Anil Kumble and former skipper Sourav Ganguly, for backing him to the hilt. He fondly recalled his 32-wicket haul in the 2001 home series win over Australia when Kumble was out after shoulder surgery.

"The series in 2001 gave me confidence as I took a lot of wickets; I was getting wickets. I wish those days come back and I don't have to struggle like today," he said.

Despite his match-winning hauls, Harbhajan has for most of his career lived under the giant shadows of Kumble. Zaheer Khan took over the bowling leader's role after that, as Harbhajan acknowledged.

That means he has more work left, to change the perception about him as the support cast and walk the path of greatness.

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