Kolkata Test 2001: Harbhajan Singh’s 13 Wicket Haul

One of the most iconic tests not just in the Indian cricket history but in the whole cricket history was the 2001 Calcutta Test. We usually remember that match for VVS Laxman’s 281 or Rahul Dravid’s 180, but there was a hero behind the bowling unit of the Indian team who had little experience in the international circuit. Harbhajan Singh was almost not picked for the series but the captain Sourav Ganguly backed him and wanted him to play in it.

Build Up

Australia was a side so dominating in the cricket world that they had won 16 Tests in a row, and now, they declared India as the “final frontier”. Australia was hungry to make it 17.

Calcutta Test, 2001

In the first innings of the second Test at Calcutta, Harbhajan removed Hayden who missed his century by just three runs and came back in the next spell to remove Mark Waugh. Harbhajan Singh had subtly woven a net around the Aussie batsmen. Australia was cruising to a decent target when Harbhajan Singh dampened their hopes. First, he removed Ponting with a flat delivery which drifted towards Ponting and he was adjudged LBW. The second one was pretty much the same delivery to Gilchrist which stayed low and he met the same fate as Ponting. LBW!

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Harbhajan on a hat- trick!!

In the next delivery, he removed Warne for a duck! Harbhajan had ripped apart Australia’s batting unit and from 252-4, Australia lost 3 wickets, courtesy to a fantastic hat-trick from the ‘Turbanator’ and the scoreboard read 252-7.

It was pretty certain that Australia would fold up below 300. However the Australian skipper, Steve Waugh took charge against the Indian bowlers. He stuck a partnership with Jason Gillespie for the 10th wicket. Waugh was in sublime touch smoking the balls for boundaries, while at the other end, Gillespie looked solid. Due to this partnership, Australia managed to reach over 400 runs which earlier seemed far enough to think about. Once they reached 400, Harbhajan Singh came back and removed Gillespie for 46. At 445/9, Harbhajan finally took the wicket of Steve Waugh who had scored a fine century. Harbhajan Singh’s final figures read 37.5-7-123-7.

In reply, India was bowled out for just 212 with the only half centurion being Laxman. India was forced to follow on.

The score was 52/1 when Laxman arrived. VVS Laxman was promoted to the No. 3 slot. Soon, Ganguly and Sachin returned back to the pavilion and in came Rahul Dravid who was demoted to No. 6. Laxman and Dravid batted till the end of the day. The next day was an absolute beauty from the duo who ended up batting the whole day! They toiled the Aussies bowlers which comprised the likes of McGrath, Warne, Gillespie and Kasprovicz quite convincingly. Laxman scored a brilliant 281 while Dravid was the perfect partner in crime and scored 180 from his side. India scored a massive 657/7 and declared.

Now, it was time for India to defend the target of 384 against the mighty Australian batting order.

Harbhajan had to step up against the mighty Aussies or else they could manage to draw the match and retain the series. Australia was at 24/0 in 12 overs at lunch on day 5. Australia was determined to draw the match against the Indians but Harbhajan stood in the way.

The Turbanator removed the well-set Slater for 43 and soon Justin Langer departed for 28 with the score at 106. Harbhajan, with his flat drifting deliveries trapped the Australian batsmen into a web. Harbhajan bowling in tandem with Tendulkar and Raju ripped their batting unit to shreds. He first got the Aussie skipper Steve Waugh for 24 runs. Ponting was caught by SS Das in a similar delivery as in the first innings. When Tendulkar dismissed Gilchrist, Warne and Hayden on consecutive overs of his spell, it was certain that Australia would soon lose the match. When Tendulkar had completed his three-wicket haul, the score was 174/8 and only finishing touches were now needed.

Harbhajan dismissed Gillespie first and then completed his majestic six wicket haul and India’s historic victory by dismissing McGrath getting him plumb in front and India won! India won the match after being enforced to follow on!

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“Bowlers win you matches”, as they say, and Harbhajan really won the match for India. People remember this match for Laxman’s 281 or Dravid’s 180 but Harbhajan’s spell was highly underrated. VVS Laxman was the man of the match but Harbhajan Singh was just as crucial in India’s most historic Test victory.

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