Considered as one of the best spinners in world cricket, Harbhajan Singh is currently not playing in the international circuit; however, he is active at the domestic level and takes part in the Indian Premier League (IPL). As the 13th edition of the IPL is ready to kick off from March 29, the off-spinner would be hoping to run his magic show yet again donning the famous yellow jersey of Chennai Super Kings (CSK).
The Jalandhar-born cricketer has played more than 100 Test matches for India and taken 417 wickets – third most by an Indian bowler after Anil Kumble (619), and Kapil Dev (434). ‘Bhajji’ has a tremendous record in IPL as well. In 160 games, the offie has 150 scalps to his name, which is the third best in the cash-rich league.
Harbhajan, who last played a red-ball game for his country in 2015 against Sri Lanka, picked his all-time best Test XI. Talking to ESPNcricinfo’s online magazine ‘The Cricket Monthly,’ the 39-year-old selected 11 players he has played with or against during his international career.
Starting from the openers, Harbhajan picked destructive batsman Virender Sehwag and hard-hitting Matthew Hayden to open the innings.
Sehwag played 104 Tests for Team India in which he scored 8586 runs at an average of 49.30 with 23 centuries and 32 fifties. Hayden, on the other hand, appeared for 103 Tests, and at a 50-plus average, he accumulated 8625 runs, with 30 tons and 29 half-centuries to his name.
On choosing Sehwag, Harbhajan said, “He was someone you could compare with Viv Richards. He wasn’t afraid to take anyone on, and he would score at a pace where he would set the match up for the bowlers. He was really good against spin, using his feet, sweeping, reverse-sweeping. He was very hard to bowl to.”
For No.3, Harbhajan went for one of the most consistent cricketers Rahul Dravid. The Karnataka stalwart played 164 matches and clubbed a mountain of 13,288 runs at an outstanding average of 52.30. The right-hander smashed 36 hundreds and 63 fifties.
The Indian spinner explained why he chose the ‘wall’ at the coveted No.3 slot. Harbhajan said, “He is the most dependable batsman that I’ve ever played against or bowled to. In any conditions, whether you talk about playing fast bowling, seam bowling, or spin, he had the technique to cope with it.”
“Any country, any bowler, any conditions, he was the man for the job. They didn’t call him “The Wall” for no reason. He was always really calm, which made you feel calm, as well. And he was a great slip fielder,” added Bhajji.
For the following position, Harbhajan picked the greatest batsman of world cricket, Sachin Tendulkar. The Master Blaster is the leading run-scorer in the longest format of the game, scoring as many as 15,921 runs, along with 51 centuries and 68 fifties.
For picking the megastar of Indian cricket, Harbhajan said, “Sachin was obviously Sachin. The most correct batsman I’ve ever bowled to. To get him out was always a difficult task, like a puzzle. You have to bowl double the number of good balls that you would bowl to a normal batsman to get him out. He would have answers for everything you tried. There is the pressure he was always under as the most loved cricketer in India, all eyes on him all the time, but he had the strength of mind to cope with all that pressure.”
At No. 5, Harbhajan went for legendary all-rounder Jacques Kallis, and for No.6, he picked one of the greatest Australian batsmen of all time Ricky Ponting. Bhajji also named Ponting as the skipper of his side.
Coming to the wicketkeeper’s role, Harbhajan picked all-time great Sri Lankan legend Kumar Sangakkara, stating, “Obviously Adam Gilchrist was a great player, but Sangakkara’s record speaks for itself. He averaged 57 in Tests, and it would have been a lot more had he not also been a wicketkeeper in the first part of his career.”
Among bowlers, the Punjab player included Shaun Pollock, Wasim Akram, and Glenn McGrath in his all-time lineup for pacers. At the same time, the responsibility of the spin department was handed over to the second-highest wicket-taker (708) in Tests Shane Warne.
For choosing Warne over Kumble and Muttiah Muralitharan, Harbhajan said, “It was a tough choice to pick him over Anil Kumble and Muttiah Muralitharan, but you look at his record in all countries – maybe not so much in India, because we were the best players of spin – he’s been successful everywhere. What can you say about him that hasn’t already been said? He brings a lot to the table.”
“Useful batsman, good slip catcher, a leader. He used to set unorthodox fields that you wouldn’t see in a cricket book, but there was a good reason for it. If you can get the batsman playing where you want him to play, that’s what you should try and do: that’s the lesson I took from Warnie,” concluded ‘the Turbanator’.
Here’s Harbhajan Singh’s all-time best Test playing XI:
Virender Sehwag, Matthew Hayden, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis, Ricky Ponting (C), Kumar Sangakkara (WK), Shaun Pollock, Shane Warne, Wasim Akram, Glenn McGrath.