11th March 2001 will always be remembered as a red-lettered day in the history of Indian cricket. For, it was a day that saw the commencement of one of the greatest Test matches in the history of the game; a match that saw new superstars- Harbhajan Singh and VVS Laxman– emerge; a game that saw one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of the longest format of the game.
India vs Australia, 2nd Test. Eden Gardens, Kolkata. 2001
First a bit of background. Post the 2000 match-fixing scandal, Indian cricket was going through a rough patch. Skipper Sourav Ganguly was just warming up in his new role and come March 2001, he was faced with the greatest challenge of that era: Beating an all-conquering Australian Cricket Team.
Australia, under Steve Waugh, was riding high on a 15-match winning streak and after having conquered the entire cricket world, their eyes were firmly set on one goal: breaching the final frontier by beating India in India, something they had not done since 1969.
To make matters worse for Ganguly & co, their premier bowlers in Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble had been ruled out due to injury. Desperate to have a talent like Bhajji in his team, Ganguly fought tooth and nail with the selectors for the inclusion of Harbhajan Singh.
Harbhajan Singh, who had made his debut in 1998, hadn’t played international cricket for two years due to a combination of poor form and indisciplined behavior.
The selectors weren’t in favor of selecting Harbhajan but Ganguly was adamant. He eventually got what he wanted and as it turned out, Harbhajan Singh vindicated his trust and belief to the hilt as he went on to claim a mind-numbing 32 wickets in three Tests including a hat-trick in the first innings of the Kolkata Test on this day, twenty years ago.
Australia, who had already taken a 1-0 lead, were cruising at 4/252 when Harbhajan struck, not once, not twice but three times in as many deliveries.
Singh’s first victim was Ricky Ponting, who just like Adam Gilchrist on the succeeding delivery, was adjudged leg-before-wicket, while his third victim, Shane Warne was brilliantly caught at forward short-leg by Sadagopan Ramesh. Harbhajan Singh became the first Indian to claim a Test hattrick, and the rest, as they sat, is history.
Bhajji claimed a total of 13 wickets in the match as India, riding on a 376-run-stand between VVS Laxman (281) and Rahul Dravid (180) went on to win the Test by 171 runs despite being forced to follow-on.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his hattrick, Harbhajan Singh took to Twitter to recall the moment that changed his life.
”Moment which changed my life #Hattrick #Grateful @BCCI 🙏🙏 ”- wrote Harbhajan Singh.
— Harbhajan Turbanator (@harbhajan_singh) March 11, 2021