On Thursday, Harbhajan Singh joined a very exclusive club. When the off-spinner took the wicket of West Indian wicketkeeper Carlton Baugh in the third Test at Windsor Park in Dominica, he joined the privileged 400-wicket club. Bhajji, playing his 96th Test, in the process became only the third Indian and 11th overall bowler to claim 400 wickets in Test cricket.
Bhajji is esctatic at having reached this historic landmark, especially since his twin strikes on the second day helped put India in a strong position against West Indies. Harbhajan ended the day on 2 for 26, having helped bowl out West Indies for 204 in the first innings of the rain-plagued third and final test.
The 31-year-old though is not looking to rest on his laurels and believes that with age on his side his best is yet to come as spinners improve after turning 30.
"Obviously, I'm quite happy that I've got 400 wickets now," Harbhajan said. "It was there in my mind from the day I've come here in the Caribbean." The Punjabi spinner arrived in West Indies poised on 393 wickets. "I'm done with it now and there's plenty to look forward to," he added. "I just want to keep working hard on my game and I'm sure I've got a lot of wickets still in me. I just have to make sure I keep myself fit."
Harbhajan, who turned 31 last Sunday, is the 11th bowler to 400 test wickets and the third from India following seamer Kapil Dev (434) and legspinner Anil Kumble (619).
"I'm really excited to be in that list. They all have done wonders not just for Indian cricket but in world cricket," he said. "They have made themselves such big names. "I've been a great follower of all the legends who have crossed 400 wickets and I'm really honoured and really happy to be part of this list."
Harbhajan recalled his first wicket, in his debut test against Australia at Bangalore in March 1998. "I do remember my first wicket. That was Greg Blewett, bowled on my 10th ball in test cricket," he said with a beaming smile. Harbhajan could not recollect No. 100 (West Indies' Wavell Hinds, ironically on the 2002 tour of the Caribbean) but was aware of his most recent milestones. "I think my 200th was (Charles) Coventry (of Zimbabwe) and the 300th was my best friend, Ricky Ponting (of Australia)," he said. "God knows who would be the 500th. Let's hope I get there some day."
Harbhajan stressed that his career was far from over. "I've got plenty of years in me," he said. "I would like to just keep on working hard on my game and whatever wickets are there for me, God will give me."
The veteran off-spinner, who had to fight off accusations of a suspect action at various times during his 13-year career, said he was pleased that his 400th wicket was such a crucial one. "It was important at that point in time. He (Baugh) was batting really well and it was good to break that partnership in the context of the game," he said. "He was probably the best batsman and he was attacking all the bowlers and taking the game away from us. It was nice to get him out and get my 400th wicket."
Bhajji has had to overcome a lot of turmoil to reach this point in his career. But the off-spinner feels the death of his father in 2000 was worst phase of his life since he thought about quitting cricket at that time. But Harbhajan, who is only the fourth spinner to get 400 wickets, is happy that he persisted and has made his family and country proud through his accomplishment.
"There have been quite a lot of bad phases. I have faced lots of ups and downs, mostly downs in my career. Very hardly I have faced the upper side. I lost my dad which was my worst time, I didn't want to play cricket after that. Somehow my family convinced me that I have to fulfill dad's dream. Wherever he is sitting today he must be proud that his son has achieved something special today."
Bhajji remembered his former captains and the support he has had from some outstanding fielders in the close cordon. “My first captain was (Mohd) Azharuddin. Then I played a couple of games under Sachin. When Sourav became captain, he gave me a lot of confidence. I took a lot of wickets under him. He supported me all the way. (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni has been great with Team India. I just hope he continues doing what he is doing. Under each captain, I know I have given my 100 per cent.
Harbhajan also remembered how his friend, the iconic Sachin Tendulkar, helped him add variations to his bowling. “Whenever I bowl to Sachin in the nets, I ask him what I should be doing. When I tour Australia or New Zealand, I take his advice. He showed me how to bowl a slider, a kind of outswinger, which I have used in ODIs and even taken wickets in Tests. But a slider can only be bowled with a new ball.”
He also spoke about some of the best close-in fielders with whom he has worked. “During my time, Shiv Sunder Das was very good in close-in cordon. Sadagopan Ramesh normally sleeps a lot but that day he was awake to take a blinder offered by Warne. It gave me a hat-trick. Aakash Chopra was outstanding. Cheteshwar Pujara was very good in South Africa. “Then Rahul Dravid is very special. He has taken 50 catches off me. I hope another 50 will come very soon.”