New Delhi- Veteran off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who became the first Indian bowler to grab a Test hat-trick in a memorable international career, announced retirement from all forms of cricket on Friday, saying that he is finally communicating what has been on his mind for the past few years.
The 41-year-old from Punjab took 417 wickets in 103 Tests, 269 wickets in 236 ODIs and 25 scalps in 28 T20Is in his illustrious career, which began in 1998.
"All good things come to an end and today as I bid adieu to the game that has given me everything in life, I would like to thank everyone who made this 23-year-long journey beautiful and memorable," he tweeted.
All good things come to an end and today as I bid adieu to the game that has given me everything in life, I would like to thank everyone who made this 23-year-long journey beautiful and memorable.
My heartfelt thank you 🙏 Grateful .https://t.co/iD6WHU46MU
— Harbhajan Turbanator (@harbhajan_singh) December 24, 2021
"From the narrow lanes of Jalandhar to becoming the Turbanator of Team India, it has been a beautiful journey of past 25 years," he said.
Harbhajan, who made his India debut during an ODI against New Zealand at Sharjah in 1998, last played for the country in March 2016 during a T20I against the UAE at Dhaka.
He said he harboured hopes of retiring in India colours but that could not materialise.
"Like all cricketers, I too wanted to bade adieu in Indian jersey but fate had something else in store for me," he said in a youtube video posted alongside his tweet.
"...there comes a time when you have to take some tough decisions and have to move on in life. Mentally I had retired long back but couldn't announce it. I haven't been active in cricket," he added.
Harbhajan had featured in a few matches during the first phase of last IPL for Kolkata Knight Riders but didn't play in the UAE leg of the league.
"I haven't been playing active cricket for quite some time but due to my commitment with Kolkata Knight Riders, I wanted to stay with them in the IPL season but I had made up my mind during the season."
"For whichever team I have played, there has always been 100 per cent commitment from me to ensure that my team finishes at the top, whether it is India, Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders, Surrey or Essex county."
One of the most memorable moments in his international career was when he snapped 32 wickets in three Tests, including the first Test hat-trick by an Indian, against Australia in March 2001. That historic Test triumph is one of most iconic moments in Indian cricket.
"In my cricket career, I was happy for the first time when I had taken a hat-trick in Kolkata and I became the first Indian bowler to take a hat-trick in Test cricket. I had also taken 32 wickets in three matches, which is still a record.
"Then the 2007 and 2011 World Cup wins were most important for me. Such memorable moments I can't forget in my life and I can't ever explain in words what it meant to me."
Harbhajan thanked his parents, his spiritual guru, his wife and children in the video, saying that he would now try to make up for the time he couldn't be there with them due to his cricketing commitments.
"My parents worked hard to fulfil my dreams. If I am born again, I would like to be born again as their son," he said.
"My wife Geeta, your love completes me, you have seen the best and worst of me. You won't complain that I don't give you time anymore. (And) I am happy that I will have time for my children and watch them grow up," he added.
Harbhajan Singh: A match winner who gave it his all
A small spot jump followed by a two step angular run-up and a fast action that hoodwinked batters.
Harbhajan Singh would repeat this on sunny days, dreary afternoons and those nippy floodlit evenings for a decade at a stretch, winning matches for India. And then one day, it all came to a screeching halt.
Not all beautiful love stories have perfect endings and one can bet that as he bid adieu to the cricket field, the 41-year-old would have ideally liked a happier ending to his cricketing script.
But there shouldn't be any regrets as it was a lovely journey, full of experiences that make life worthwhile and anyone who knows him closely, would vouch that the 'R' word in his dictionary never stood for 'regret'.
He was semi-retired for the past few years having last worn the India blues back in 2016 but every story -- good, bad or ugly -- requires a closure and for India's Turbanator, his announcement of retirement officially marks an end to one of Indian cricket's most fascinating chapters.
With 100-plus Tests and 400-plus wickets, most of them not exactly coming on rank turners, Harbhajan's name will always figure among true blue cricketing elites of India.
And with two limited-overs world titles under his belt, it's an enviable CV for any top-flight cricketer.
He was unique in his own way with all his frailties, heartburns and controversies and the many imperfections that made him even more endearing.
For him, his leader was always Sourav Ganguly, someone whose foresight perhaps stopped him from migrating to the United States in early 2000 after his father's death.
And during those ugly days of Greg Chappell versus Ganguly, he was the only cricketer who went on record to support his skipper only to be hauled up by the BCCI.
He would never shy away from what he felt was the truth and thus protesting against stale food supplied by the National Cricket Academy led to his expulsion by then chief Hanumant Singh.
There would be questions raised about his action and twice he had to undergo tests to come out clean.
The infamous 'Monkeygate' episode when he was accused of racial abuse by Andrew Symonds did mentally take a toll on him and he realised it as time passed.
The controversy related to shoving S Sreesanth during the IPL was avoidable but then in those days, he could well be on short fuse and the incident that led to his suspension happened during that event's first edition.
The colorful patkas, roar of a lion at every dismissal and the love for a good scrap made Harbhajan a true blue rockstar in those early days of the new millennium when Indian cricket team under Sourav Ganguly was trying to pick up pieces after being shaken to the core by the match-fixing scandal.
Extremely combative, bordering on combustible with skills to match, Harbhajan, in his pomp, displayed the kind of swag that very few can even now.
Ask Ricky Ponting, a legend of that era whom Harbhajan dismissed close to a dozen times in Test cricket.
Ponting never really got the measure of Harbhajan's doosra and the bounce that he generated from his gangly 6 feet frame.
They say that a measure of any player's greatness is how he performs against the best of his era and those 32 wickets against Australia will forever remain the crowning glory of his international career.
Name the batter and Harbhajan had got him out.
Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Damien Martyn, Steve Waugh, Jacques Kallis, Andrew Flintoff, he got them all.
Yes, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Younis Khan and Kumar Sangakkara did pose a lot of trouble but that didn't deter him from making significant contributions in winning Test matches in Jamaica, Hamilton and nearly another one in Cape Town.
He had five-fors in three of the four SENA countries, the exception being Australia.
If one makes a fair assessment and revisits Harbhajan's best years between 2001 to 2011, India hardly played on rank turners or proverbial snake pits where ball would turn square from the first session on day one and matches would finish inside two and half days maximum.
Save for one game at Wankhede, where even Michael Clarke got six wickets, Harbhajan's performance did not seem dependent on tracks.
In India, when Anil Kumble and Harbhajan formed the most potent match winning bowling partnership, most of the Test matches that India won were either late on fourth day or early into the fifth day.
It was also an era where the quality of Test batting hadn't gone down.
So what exactly made Harbhajan special?
The awkward bounce and pace generated off the pitch made him lethal as all the close in fielders would be in business.
And the "doosra", which in simple words or layman's language would be off-spinner's leg-break that he learnt watching Saqlain Mushtaq and customized it well enough to scare the daylights out of the best in the business.
When the ball turned the other way at that pace and the disconcerting bounce, the batter had very little reaction time.
Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni, SS Das, Sadagoppan Ramesh, Aakash Chopra will swear that they would always be on alert as the ball would fly in any direction at different heights.
Often wicket keepers who had kept up to him would say that when Harbhajan would be in rhythm, the ball, while drifting through its flight, would make a "snake like hissing sound". And it happened when someone put his whole body behind the ball.
No one did it like him before and no one can still do it like him after the feisty sardar from Jalandhar left the scene.
During the phase between 2007 to 2011, he got a new lease of life under then coach Gary Kirsten as he became a terrific white ball bowler -- the yorker to Michael Clarke in the 2007 T20 World Cup semi-final or beating Umar Akmal with sheer pace and trickery of angle in a tense World Cup semi-final, he delivered when it mattered the most.
In his later years, as IPL captured the mindspace, he became one of the best exponents of restrictive T20 bowling getting as many as 150 wickets in the league, most of them for Mumbai Indians.
Between 2011 to 2016, his career went on a downward spiral and as luck would have it, it coincided with Ravichandran Ashwin's ascendancy.
He had taken 400 wickets by the time he was only 31 and could have easily gone past 500 wickets.
When he came back from injury in 2011, the selectors decided to move on and when he got sporadic chances, the cricket establishment didn't handhold him as it should have given that he had been a champion performer.
He wanted to go out on a high wearing that India shirt but some things are just not meant to be.
A few months back a popular web series Kota Factory had a fleeting scene where an IIT aspirant with a backpack while walking down the road suddenly shadow-bowls.
A smiling Harbhajan shared the clipping recalling his own glory days, "doesn't it look familiar".
That spot jump and whiplash action, a fad for all the new millennium teenagers.
As Sachin Tendulkar once told this correspondent, "Harbhajan made a generation fall in love with the art of off-spin."
He indeed did.
Statistical Highlights of Harbhajan Singh's career
A look at the significant milestones and achievements of Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh in his 23-year long illustrious cricketing career, which he ended on Friday.
With 417 wickets in 103 Test matches, Harbhajan is 14th in the list of all-time highest wicket-takers and fourth best Indian behind Anil Kumble (619), Kapil Dev (434) and R Ashwin (427).
Test Debut: vs Australia at Bengaluru - March, 1998
Most Test wickets against Nations
95 wickets vs Australia in 18 matches
60 wickets vs South Africa in 11 matches
56 wickets vs West Indies in 11 matches
53 wickets vs Sri Lanka in 16 matches
45 wickets vs England in 14 matches
Most successful Test seasons
Year-2002: 63 wickets in 13 matches (Five 5-wicket hauls
Year-2001: 60 wickets in 12 matches (Six 5-wicket hauls, Two 10-wicket hauls)
Best Bowling figures in a Test innings
8/84 vs Australia on March 18, 2001 in Chennai
ODI Debut: vs New Zealand at Sharjah - April 17, 1998
Most ODI wickets against Nations
61 wickets vs Sri Lanka in 47 matches
36 wickets vs England in 23 matches
33 wickets vs West Indies in 31 matches
32 wickets vs Australia in 35 matches
31 wickets vs South Africa in 24 matches
Harbhajan also claimed 25 wickets in 28 T20 matches.
Cricket fraternity lauds Harbhajan's contribution to the game
Congratulatory messages poured in from the cricket fraternity, lauding Harbhajan Singh's contribution to the game after the former India spin veteran announced his retirement from all forms of cricket on Friday.
"Congratulations on a wonderful career Pajhi Your contribution to cricket has been immense and it was a pleasure to play alongside you. Enjoyed our great moments together on and off the field. Wishing you luck for your next innings @harbhajan_singh," India opener Shikhar Dhawan tweeted.
NCA chief and former India batsman VVS Laxman also extended his he good wishes.
"Hearty congratulations to my great mate @harbhajan_singh on a remarkable career! A tremendous exponent of off-spin, a gifted batsman and a true competitor who fashioned many a wonderful Indian victory. Best wishes for the future, Bhajji, go well!"
Former Indian pacer, S Sreeshath, who was in tears after Harbhajan had allegedly slapped him on-field during an IPL match in 2008, labelled the spinner as the best in the world.
"@harbhajan_singh Ur gonna be the one of the best ever played cricket not just for india but in world of cricket..it's a huge honour to know u and to have played with you b bhajjipa .will always cherish the lovely hugs (lucky for me) before my spells ) lots of love and respect."
Following is the compilation of the reactions by other current and former players.
*KL Rahul: "He was a great spinner for India and youngsters like us came in the team, he was very supportive and welcomed us."
*Kuldip Yadav: "A legend of the game and a match winner for our country Thank you @harbhajan_singh Paaji for your guidance and helping me with my game. You will be missed. Best wishes."
*Parthiv Patel: "More than a truly great player, Bhajju Pa was always a big brother for all the [email protected]_singh would make us laugh all the time and was someone who always made the dressing room like our home. Best wishes in your new innings. #harbhajansingh."
*Pragyan Ojha: "Congratulations bhajju pa on a splendid career, something that the entire country is proud of. Wishing you the best for the future endeavours. Also a big thank you for being an inspiration to many budding young spinners. God bless you and the family!"
*Umesh Yadav: "One of the finest to represent who won so many games for the nation. Best wishes Bhajju Paa on your retirement @harbhajan_singh."
*Mayank Agarwal: Congratulations @harbhajan_singh for a wonderful career. I remember as a kid watching you take that hattrick against Australia in 2001. Thank you for the great memories Bhajji paa. I wish you best for the journey ahead."
*Suresh Raina: "Your contribution to Indian cricket will always be cherished, @harbhajan_singh paaji wishing you all the best for your future."
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