'Ponting among the top five I bowled to' - Harbhajan
Harbhajan Singh, who shared a famous rivalry with Ricky Ponting, has described the former Australia captain as "one of the top five" batsmen he has bowled against. Harbhajan, who dismissed Ponting the most number of times - 10 in 14 Tests - said not only the Australian players but even opponents respected him a lot because of his aura.
"Ponting will be in my top five Test batsmen ever against whom I played," Harbhajan said. "He was the kind of cricketer who could win matches on his own. An outstanding fielder, his body language throughout his career is something we all look up to. He brought so much passion and enthusiasm to the field each time he walked in. That earned him command as a leader and a lot of respect for what he has achieved."
Ponting might have been the best Australia batsman of his generation, but his record in India was far from sparkling and a big reason was his struggle to succeed against Harbhajan. Ponting, who featured in six tours in India between 1996 and 2010, averaged 26.48 in the country, with 662 runs in 25 innings with just one century in Bangalore in 2008. In the memorable 2001 Test series, Harbhajan captured Ponting in each of the three Tests in which the batsman managed just 17 runs in five innings.
According to Harbhajan, the problem could have been more mental than technical. "Before that 2001 Border-Gavaskar Trophy where I got him in all the three Tests, I had got the better of Ponting in the first warm-up match when he went for a drive and was caught at short mid-wicket. Wherever, whenever we played, I managed to get his wicket by bowling decent balls. I feel when you get out to one particular bowler, it plays on the batsman's mind regardless of the pitch conditions."
Harbhajan admitted the relationship between him and Ponting never changed from the adversarial one which was established first in the 1998 tri-series in Sharjah involving India, Australia and New Zealand. Harbhajan, playing in his debut series, had been hit for a couple of sixes by Ponting. But the offspinner bounced back by deceiving Ponting in the air and got him stumped. Ponting, unimpressed by Harbhajan's send-off gesture, reacted aggressively. Both men were fined by the match referee with Harbhajan missing the next game. It was the beginning of a long-standing rivalry which reached its peak during the Monkeygate incident on India's 2007-08 tour of Australia when Ponting was captain. However, Harbhajan said he held no grudges against Ponting.
"Me and Ricky were never friends, but I have a lot of respect for him and for what he has done for cricket," Harbhajan said.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo