Harbhajan Singh's 400 Test wickets

Feisty Harbhajan joins elite club

There have arguably been better spinners than Harbhajan Singh in Test history but on Thursday he became the 11th bowler to take 400 wickets. And that's no mean achievement

Sriram Veera at Windsor Park

July 7, 2011

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Carlton Baugh becomes Harbhajan Singh's 400th Test wicket, West Indies v India, 3rd Test, Dominica, 2nd day, July 7, 2011
Harbhajan Singh brings up No. 400 © AFP
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In his 96th Test, off his 26,961st delivery, Harbhajan Singh became the 11th man in Test history, and the fourth spinner, to claim 400 wickets. The relief-drenched celebration came out with a pumped fist and a roar. It would have been perhaps even more fitting had it come through a shout for an lbw or a catch as Harbhajan would then have performed his signature backpedal-and-appeal routine.

The mode of celebration was understandable as he was made to wait for the landmark. He needed seven wickets at the start of the series and in the first two Tests, on pitches that suited the seamers, he took five wickets at an average of 35.60. The wait ended today. With Ishant Sharma threatening to run through the tail, Harbhajan removed Darren Sammy with the typical bat-and-pad dismissal he is known for. The ball dipped and bounced as it turned in and Sammy edged his defensive poke to the short-leg fielder. In his next over, he got one to turn in from just outside off and cramped Carlton Baugh for room. Baugh went for the cut, almost stumbled out to the leg side and lost his stumps.

Cameras flashed in the Indian dressing room. Out in the middle, Harbhajan was enveloped by warm hugs from his team-mates. Slowly he extricated himself, walked towards the top of his run-up, placed his right hand on his chest and looked up to the skies.

It's been a common sight through his 13-year career. Often he gives the feeling he is fighting the world. Often you get the feeling the world is fighting against him. It's been a career with heady peaks and puzzling troughs.

Rarely has any other bowler with 400 Test wickets received so much criticism. It's as if his critics expect greatness from him and feel disappointed that he has let them down.

On his bad days his line drifts to leg and middle, the pace is too quick and his attacking instincts evaporate. The critics have a field day announcing the end and then suddenly he shuts them up with a match-winning spell. On his good days he can be a handful. The ball will drift, dip, and bite and batsmen will succumb, unable to contend with the extra bounce and turn. It's as if there are two different bowlers. Other top spinners rarely gave this illusion of split personality. Harbhajan does.

He is a good bowler. Some believe he can be better than good. Some believe he is not as good as he is purported to be. The truth must lie somewhere in the middle. He has confounded his critics through his career. It's often been said that he needs spin-friendly tracks to be effective. However, in his previous two outings away from home, in New Zealand in 2009 and in South Africa in 2010, he has excelled. He was perhaps at his best away from home during that tour of New Zealand. Deploying over spin, side spin, and top spin, he was at the top of his art. The drift he got was mesmerising. A couple of months after that tour, Daniel Vettori named Harbhajan as the bowler whom he admired the most in international cricket.

Later, in the Cape Town Test, a wicketless first innings that had the critics hollering was followed by 7 for 120 in the second. Through his career he has been a different bowler once he's got early wickets. In recent times, he hasn't used the doosra much and has preferred to use the topspinner. It's been a puzzling development.

Today, however, was a day to bask in personal glory. The list of top wicket-taking spinners reads: Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh. There might have been better spinners than Harbhajan in Test history but only three others have picked up 400 wickets. And it's no mean achievement. It will be interesting to see how history views him. Will he judged by what he has done or will he be judged by what some think he could have done - what more he could have done?

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by CricketLifer on (July 10, 2011, 17:15 GMT)

What players like Harbhajan (Ganguly was another one) has taught India is to be fight and be aggressive. Typical Indian cricketer is rather placid at best or a push over at worst. He may not be a consistent wicket taker but hey, he is no chucker either! Hope he continues to play and inspire other young bowlers.

Posted by   on (July 10, 2011, 13:12 GMT)

For everyone who says Bhajji is mediocre, he doesn't deserve the accolades because of the poor average, etc., etc....Bhajji has played a huge role in getting India to the NUMBER ONE ranking in tests and helping them stay there, a feat Murali could never acheive for his team. Bhajji has won/drawn matches with the bat (has two centuries to his name), another feat Murali never achieved. I will take TEAM RESULTS over individual achievement from the Indian players any day.

weldone NP_NY...U SAID IT...baji u r no.1 to india.....keep going...i belive that he will break murali's record.......goodluckkk...balle balleee....

Posted by g.narsimha on (July 10, 2011, 9:32 GMT)

relax guys it uderstood that anything positive to india pak supportors always tries degrade indains.indians never insultes imran khan miandad,akram & other greats frm pak.there may be crore indians admires these greats.but it really pains when i see a lot of negetivity hetrad towards our past &present super stars including sachin i never seen any body from that side saying gud words for kapil the great who inspired not only indian cricketers fans but all of the sub continent by winning world cup in 1983.u can have ur own oppinoin on a particular player even after taking 400wikets if BHAJJI is termed as useless,overrated bowler by our bros frm pak & sl ,wat about won & murali who could not won asingle match on indian soil on their own & had nightmares whenever encountered indians if 1 has to be great they shud have performed against the beast players of spinners on spinning trackes in india warna himself admitted of having nightmares after sachin give him a gud thrasing.

Posted by Bilal_Choudry on (July 10, 2011, 7:39 GMT)

@DaGameChanger Its a fact that Harbajan's record against batsman from subcontinent is poor. If you dont believe me check for yourself. Even Bedi thinks Sehwag is a better off spinner than Harbajan. Again you dont have to believe me search for it yourself. Soon he would give way to the new lad

Posted by   on (July 10, 2011, 2:18 GMT)

As I read the omens, Bhajji could well turn out to be our match winner in Dominica today - sort of history calling for a turbanator footprint in a new West Indian Test venue!

Posted by NRI- on (July 10, 2011, 1:35 GMT)

Harbhajan is far superior to Prasanna and Venkat, just look at the stat S Rajesh has put together. Plus he is a far better batsman than Bedi or Pras and a much better fielder than the fatty Bedi or the even fatter Pras.s that

Posted by NP_NY on (July 9, 2011, 22:35 GMT)

For everyone who says Bhajji is mediocre, he doesn't deserve the accolades because of the poor average, etc., etc....Bhajji has played a huge role in getting India to the NUMBER ONE ranking in tests and helping them stay there, a feat Murali could never acheive for his team. Bhajji has won/drawn matches with the bat (has two centuries to his name), another feat Murali never achieved. I will take TEAM RESULTS over individual achievement from the Indian players any day.

Posted by johnathonjosephs on (July 9, 2011, 21:30 GMT)

"There have arguably been better spin bowlers than Harbhajan?" Are you joking? The guy took 93 matches to get 400 wickets, while murali had just 40 matches more than him and got double that amount. He's been in the game for 13 years and only just managed to get that achievement now. In history, Harbhajan will only be known for that Eden Gardens match against Australia and probably 5 other matches. Nowhere near great... Kumble, Murali, Warne, Qadir, even Bishan Bedi was better

Posted by bhaloniaz on (July 9, 2011, 20:05 GMT)

Harbhajan's talent is undeniable. But his aggressive attitude is actually detrimental to the team. Most players at this level has self-confidence. They donot need Harbhajan to get into a fight to up their games. I am tired of people condoning/praising bad behavior. Its a polarization. That makes people biased. So people cannot decide. Say Amit Misra starts to bowl better than Harbhajan. Because indians are emotionally connected to Harbhajan, they would not let Amit take Bhaji's place. Its detrimental to india.

Posted by bhaloniaz on (July 9, 2011, 19:59 GMT)

Getting 400 wickets in 96 tests is great. Its even hard for a spinner. Harbhajan may not be Warne or Murali, but he will be on the second tier with Bedi, Prasanna. India's problem is that all the other test playing nations have good spinners. So india no longer have an advantage. India's fast bowlers are getting better and batsmen were good before. Now batsmen are less vulnerable against fast bowling. So india in effect has become a much more balanced team. Off course, Gavasker/Amarnath played really well in an era when cricket was more bowler friendly. So their contribution in indian cricket is underrated. Now Sachin has 50+ average. So does anyone who is almost every batsman in indian team.

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