SK Elite: When Harbhajan Singh's 15 wicket haul left the mighty Aussies reeling
The off-spinner played a crucial role in India's series triumph.
Battles between India and Australia are bound to fascinate audiences. From the tons notched up and the wickets scalped, to the aggressive exchanges during the game, matches between the two nations never fail to entertain.
Looking back at a series in the early 21st century, the Indians, under the leadership of the fired up Sourav Ganguly, were determined to rack up wins in the most formidable circumstances. The Aussies, meanwhile, were a well-knit unit led by the composed Steve Waugh.
The Australians lived up to their reputation and comfortably romped home with 10 wickets in the first fixture at Mumbai thus enabling critics to question Ganguly's tactics. The second match is still remembered for being one of the major triumphs in India's glittering Test history as VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid stitched an incredible partnership while following on. Later, Harbhajan Singh scalped a match-winning 13-wicket haul as India crushed Australia to level the series 1-1.
Australia's 1st innings: 391 all-out (Hayden 203, Harbhajan 133/7)
Now, the final Test at Chennai was expected to be an absolute belter given the teams' comprehensive performances in the first two games. Harbhajan Singh was the revelation of the series and expectation spiked for the decisive Test match of the series. Waugh won the toss and opted to bat first. The Aussies gained the momentum after the dangerous Matthew Hayden combined with the Waugh brothers, Australia eventually notching up 340 runs for the loss of 3 wickets.
Just when things looked pretty gloomy for the Indians, Harbhajan rapped Waugh on the pads as the latter attempted a slog sweep. Just before the umpire could give his decision, Waugh handled the ball which was set to crash into the stumps after striking the pad. He was given out for handling the ball and it set the platform for one of Australia's worst collapses.
Ricky Ponting tried countering Harbhajan's spin by stepping down the track but the straight one from Bhajji did the trick as Ponting registered a golden duck. Gilchrist was out leg before the wicket, Shane Warne was caught at short leg, Jason Gillespie and Colin Miller departed after skying the ball - all dismissed by the wrecker-in-chief Harbhajan Singh. Although Hayden scored his double hundred, he too fell to Harbhajan. The 'Turbanator' had toyed around with the Australian batting line-up to collect yet another 7-wicket haul in the series.
India's first innings: 511 all-out (Tendulkar 126, McGrath 75/3)
In reply, India amassed a 110 run lead courtesy Tendulkar's century and Dravid's splendid knock. It was always going to be a daunting task to overhaul a 110 run lead and then set a target.
Australia second innings: 264 all-out (M.Waugh 57, Harbhajan 84/8)
In spite of the openers starting well, what happened next was simply flabbergasting. Out of the next 9 remaining wickets, Harbhajan Singh took a baffling 8 and ended up with figures of 8 for just 84 runs. It all started when he trapped the swashbuckling Gilchrist for 1, followed by the wicket of Slater. As the match progressed, Harbhajan added the Waugh brothers to his tally.
Ponting constantly struggled to cope with Bhajji's variations and departed while trying to pad a ball away. The extra bounce meant the ball took the glove and was caught by Dravid at leg slip. The tail did offer a bit of resistance but Harbhajan sent them packing as Australia set a modest fourth innings target of 155.
India second innings 155/8 (Laxman 66, Miller 41/3)
Laxman set the tone for the chase and India looked to be cruising to a series victory at 117 for 3 when the unusual collapse occurred. They lost 4 specialist batsmen for just 18 runs and with just 4 runs required, in walked Harbhajan who had destroyed the Aussies in the game until then.
Harbhajan opened his account by somehow scampering for a non-existent single, managing to survive Australia's attempt to run him out. Now with just 2 runs to get, the ball was in McGrath's hands.
McGrath delivered an inswinging yorker on the off-stump and Harbhajan dealt with it, guiding it through the gap between covers and point. He set out for the double with his fists pumped and India clinched a thriller.
India won the game and the series 2-1. Harbhajan Singh was named the Man of the Match and the Man of the Series for his 32 scalps in 3 Test matches.