India managed to wrest the initiative on the opening day of the second Test, thanks chiefly to an impressive performance by Harbhajan Singh. The off-spinner from Punjab became the first bowler in the 69 years of Indian Test cricket to achieve a hat-trick. It was Harbhajan who brought the 65,000 odd spectators at the Eden Gardens to life today. His first five wicket haul in Test cricket also came along with the hat-trick in his 10th Test.
The proceedings till tea did not reflect in any way the dramatic change that came about in the last session. In his first spell, Harbhajan had gone for 29 runs in four overs. But he came back strongly after tea to rattle the Aussies. His hat-trick victims were Ricky Ponting, Mumbai batting hero Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne.
After the match, a visibly elated Harbhajan faced a horde of cameras and flashbulbs and a barrage of questions from the media. "I knew that the pitch had nothing to offer. So I concentrated on bowling line and length with small variations. I worked hard and then God did the rest for me," said Harbhajan.
Answering all the questions in Hindi, Harbhajan became quite emotional when he was informed by the media that he was the first Indian to achieve a hat-trick in a Test match. "I just wish my father Sardev Singh was here today. He passed away six months back. He would have really felt proud about my performance," he said.
Asked to describe the three balls that fetched him the wickets, Harbhajan said, "I pushed one quicker through the air to Ponting. He was beaten by pace and was leg before. I used the same delivery against Adam Gilchrist as he was fresh at the wicket. The result was the same. When I was about to deliver the next ball to Warne, Sachin ran up to me. He just told me to make the batsman play at the delivery. However, the credit for Warne's wicket should go entirely to Sadagopan Ramesh. He was the person who helped me to fulfill a dream that I will always cherish."
More than the hat-trick, Harbhajan has changed the entire atmosphere in the Indian dressing room. The Indian cricketers had the smile back on their faces. In between the session with journalists, Ganguly peeked in and joked, "Talk to him in English. He does not know how to speak in Hindi." The hope that had turned to despair after Mumbai was back. Ganguly said that Harbhajan's performance brought India back into the game.
In fact, even though Gilchrist received a poor decision from umpire SK Bansal, he was the first Australian to visit the Indian dressing room to congratulate Harbhajan. The off spinner also informed the umpires that he would like to have the ball with which he achieved his dream. "That ball will definitely be one of my prized possessions," said Harbhajan. Asked what was going through his mind after Bansal had asked for the third umpire's opinion on Warne's dismissal, Harbhajan said "I was just praying to God. However, Ramesh was very confident of the catch and Dravid was the first to congratulate me."
The off spinner also added that even though Mathew Hayden had gone for him during his first spell, he had not lost his confidence. "I always like attacking the batsman. I had not bowled badly. It was just that Hayden had played some great shots. I was confident of success." He also added that the `third time lucky' proverb had fallen in place for him. "Twice I had been on a hat-trick in Test matches - once against Zimbabwe a couple of years back and then against the Australians in the last Test. Now, the dream has come true."
Harbhajan also thanked coach John Wright and Ganguly for having faith in him. "Their advice has paid off," he concluded.