The Eden Gardens Test of 2001 against Australia is often considered the game that turned around India’s cricket, giving them self-belief and confidence. Sourav Ganguly’s team won a thrilling game thanks to VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid’s batting after being made to follow-on. But before their historic partnership, the base was set by Harbhajan Singh’s historic hat-trick, the first by an Indian in Test cricket.
Harbhajan, who was just 20 years old then, took three wickets in three balls in Australia’s first innings to put the skids on their charge. From 252 for four with Ricky Ponting and captain Steve Waugh at the crease, the visitors crumbled to 252 for seven in the space of three balls on a batting surface.
“It is a very special moment in my life. That hat-trick gave me a lot of recognition, lot of belief that I could do it (at the highest level against a top team). I felt like, if I can do it against these guys, the best guys then I can do it against any other team. It is something which is very, very important to me as I said because it gave me the recognition and people suddenly started to rely on me. They felt, ‘yeah this guy can do it’. The hat-trick and the series was a turning point in my life,” recalls Harbhajan while speaking to IANS on Thursday, 20 years since he achieved the feat to enter the annals of Indian cricket history.
Harbhajan kept a fuller length as both Ponting and Adam Gilchrist went back into the crease and missed the line. Shane Warne played it with the bat, off the front-foot, but could not keep the ball down as Sadagopan Ramesh took a sharp catch at forward short-leg.
“Honestly I didn’t think too much about the hat-trick. I was looking to bowl the best I can,” explains Harbhajan and adds that the idea was to bowl full as batsmen would often look to pad deliberately in those days to avoid leg-before appeals going against them.
“Those days, the review systems (DRS) were not there and lbw never used to be given out even if you did deliberate padding. Lot of batsmen used to play with their pads if the ball was turning. They would rather play with their pads than the bat because they wanted to avoid the catching fielders near the bat. (But) we had that plan that I will look to bowl full,” says Harbhajan.
When Warne arrived at the crease after the off-spinner had removed both Ponting and Gilchrist, Harbhajan thought that the Aussie leg-spinner might also look to play with his pads to avoid a leg-before decision.
“I felt I should bowl full. It was his first ball, I thought he might try to play with the pad. I bowled a full ball, he actually flicked it with the bat and Ramesh took, maybe the catch of his life which in turn made my life. It was a moment for everyone out there in the park to enjoy. And I could see that from the way Rahul Dravid hugged Ramesh and the way he was celebrating the hat-trick as if it was his hat-trick. That is what the team was about. They were celebrating it as their own hat-trick,” said Harbhajan
That also helped Harbhajan set up a rivalry with Ponting, something that the Indian usually came out trumps.