Former Australian captain Steve Waugh has heaped high praise on champion Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, claiming that the fact the the ‘turbanator’ played his cricket in the same vein and spirit as the Australians, is what made him such a tricky customer to handle.
Waugh also shed light on why Harbhajan was such a difficult bowler to counter, especially on Indian wickets.
According to the legendary Australia cricketer, Harbhajan’s over-spin and the bounce that he got off the surface is what made him such a nightmare for batsmen.
“He played in the same vein, the same spirit, and the same method as we did. That’s probably why we found him a bit prickly because it was like playing against ourselves in the opposition. He played cricket the Aussie way. He was in your face, a bit of talk, aggressive, positive and he backed himself,” Steve Waugh told cricket.com.au.
“He wasn’t a traditional off-spinner. He got a bit overspin and bounce. It wasn’t always the sharp turn, but the subtle variations and bounce. Got caught bat-pad pretty regularly off him,” added Steve Waugh.
"That's probably why we found him a bit prickly – it was like playing against ourselves."
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) January 14, 2021
“He won the series for India in 2001”- Steve Waugh on Harbhajan Singh
Harbhajan Singh may have made his debut against Australia in 1998 but it was during the 2001 home rubber against the Steve Waugh-led Australians where he announced his arrival on the big stage.
Having stayed his wilderness for a better part of two years, Harbhajan made a resounding comeback in the absence of India’s lead spinner Anil Kumble as he spun the Aussies in a tizzy, claiming as many as 32 wickets- including a hattrick at the Eden Gardens- in just three Test matches- the most by a bowler in a three-Test rubber.
The level of domination of Harbhajan Singh can be gauged from the fact that the second-highest wicket-takers for India in that series were Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan, who claimed three apiece.
Steve Waugh admitted that barring Matthew Hayden, none of his batsmen were able to counter Harbhajan, hailing the off-spinner as the difference between the two sides.
“He won the series for India in 2001. 32 wickets in 3 Tests. We just couldn’t counteract his bounce. He got this amazing bounce off the length. Every spell he bowled against, he dominated us. Incredible strike rate bowled a lot of overs and was consistent. Hayden probably took him on and did well, but the rest of us really couldn’t find a way to get on top of him. Without him, we would have won the series. A very influential figure, particularly against us,” Waugh concluded.
— Wisden India (@WisdenIndia) May 1, 2020
Harbhajan Singh continued to have success against Australia throughout his career as he claimed a total of 95 wickets in 18 games at an average of 29.95 with as many as seven five-wicket hauls. He also had his fair share of controversies against the Aussies, none bigger than the ‘Monkeygate scandal’ in 2008.