Saturday, October 29, 2011

Miss You, My Friend

Dear Bhajji,

First of all, belated Diwali wish for you and your family. As you know, I was little busy with the arrangements of the last ODI between India and those hapless English boys, hence could not send you a timely greetings card. I thought I will wish you during your visit in November and us being best of friends you will understand.
I still remember you first trip here. It was the year 1999; you were a young Sardar, still in your teens, playing in your 5th test match, that also against Pakistan in the first match of Asian Test championship. Indian team was full of ecstasy and euphoria after beating Pakistan in Delhithanks to Anli’s ‘Perfect Ten’ in the second innings. You were pretty much a young apprentice under him, learning the tricks of the tread.
To tell you the truth, I did not notice you much during your first visit. There were so many other great performances in that match. Javagal’s 86/8 in the second innings after his first innings return of 46/5, which I think one of the top three bowling performance by an Indian pacer on Indian soil, Anwar’s 188 runs in the second innings against that rampaging Javagal. And obviously that fast bowler called Shoaib Akhtar, who took 8 wickets in the match including the great Tendulkar for a first ball duck in the first innings.
Also, there were shameful crowd troubles after Tendulkar’s dismissal in the second innings and also in the last day. Among all these drama, I did not notice your two wickets. I faintly remember that you hit one boundary through thirdman, coming at number eleven in the first innings.
I vividly remember your next visit though and I have to remember it. This was the visit when you and VVS put me permanently in the heart of every Indian cricket lover. But before going to that, let me remember the background history.
You played your 8th test match against New Zealandin October 1999. Then you were dropped in favor of… who were those guys? Right, I remember. There names were Nikhil Chopra and Sarandeep Singh. Then thankfully, the good sense prevailed. Captain Ganguly fought for you in the selection meeting and was successful to include you in the squad of the first test againstAustralia. You got 4 wickets in the first test in Mumbai, and despite the 10 wicket loss you kept your place in the team and came here to play your 10th test.
The test match was from11-15th March, 2001, test match number 1535. Against those all conquering Aussies, who came here to avenge their innings and 219 run loss in 1998 and to get their 17th consecutive test win.
But, Australians were humbled and the face of Indian cricket changed forever. Millions of cricket fans started believing their adored Indian cricket team. They knew this team can fight now, they have learnt snatching wins form the jaws of defeat. They knew this team consists of fighters like Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and off course you. You are a Sardar and you behave like one in the field. You carry your heart and pride in your sleeves and every movement of yours on the field exhibits that.
People always talk about VVS’ 281 and Dravid’s 180 and their unbroken partnership on the fourth day. But, you, Harbhajan Singh, you had started the fight back with those seven wickets in first innings, three of which came in consecutive deliveries to make you the first Indian bowler to take a test match hat trick. I still remember, my heart started beating fast when the decision for that catch of Shane Warne went to third umpire. Those 20 seconds were cruel, painful. But I can still see the elation in your face when the red signal was given. A star was born in front of my eyes. A star who would come back again and again to create history.
You finish the match with 13 wickets and although VVS got the Man of the match, you effort was no less important.
And after that you returned many times and not only became the most successful bowler in this part of the world, you also became one of my favorites, almost like a family member.
India never lost any test match in Eden since then. We won once against Pakistan and twice against South Africa. Also drew against West Indies and Pakistan. In one of the test wins againstSouth Africa you took seven wickets in the second innings and were given Man of the match award.

I also remember the last test match. That kid from South Africa with a long beard, Hasim Amla, he was not ready to get out. He kept batting on and on. You guys were a bowler short due to Zak’s injury. But you also kept trying and fighting. You bowled ball after ball, over after over. You finally got Morne Morkel in front of leg-middle, 9 balls before the end of mandatory play. You bowled 48 overs and 3 balls, almost half of those were maiden. And you got 5 wickets for 59 runs. I remember your mad dash towards the crowd after getting that last wicket. You ran, you jumped, your beat your chest and shared all your happiness and joy with them.
I have seen lots of players in last 80 years. I have seen the big muscular Dilawar Hossain batting with a fractured skull against Douglas Jardine’s England team in 1934. I have seen Rohon Kanhai’s poetic 256 in 1958. I remember those three artists from Hyderabad, ML Jayasimha, Md. Azharuddin and VVS Laxman. And they also shared a special relationship with me.
And I have observed you. You are from Punjab and although now days you earn millions and wear costly clothes and watches there is something very earthy, very simple about you. You chat with crowds. You clap for them. You take off your hat when they applaud for their appreciation of another great over. You make them feel that you are one of them. As if at any moment you can just jump this side of the fence and have a chat with them about the latest bollywood movies.

I heard that, your performance was not up to the mark in last few matches. I was sad. I wanted my friend to be here. So I did some research on your test performance in last 12 months. I found pretty interesting stuff.

(For a better view click here)

So, you have played 11 test matches in last 12 months to capture 38 wickets. 3 of those tests were in home against a mediocre New Zealand side, where you took only 10 wickets. Although your economy rate was decent, both your average and strike rate were significantly higher than your overall average. You got two hundreds though, first one after coming to bat at 65/6 but since your primary job is to bowl will not give you much points for that.
Still you went to South Africa and West Indies and your performance in the both the series was top rated. Your average was below 30 in both those series. You also took 7 wickets in Newlands to give India an outline chance to get a series win. You also score a gutsy 70 at Sabaina Park, coming at 85/6, but you are an Indian bowler, if you can’t bat at a crunch situation you are useless, if you can bat at critical situation then you are not useless but a bowler and your job is to bowl!
And then you went to the England tour. Indian team was thrashed and you performed miserably. You played two tests to end up with a bowling average which was 3.8 times higher than your overall overage. And your strike rate for the series was 173% higher than your average. You got a stomach ligament tear after that and headed back home. India lost the tour 0-8 (combining tests, ODIs and T20s) and then although you recovered you were dropped.
They do not think that this England tour could have been what in Statistics called an outlier. Like the general public memory these selectors also seemed to have a pretty short memory and they only consider your latest performance and dropped you from the ODI team.
And then yesterday, I heard the news that you are dropped from the test squad too, after playing 98 tests. And I am heart broken. I desperately wanted you to get selected for the first two tests, so that you can come here to play your 100th test. You deserve a great celebration for playing your 100th test and what could have been better than reaching that milestone in your favorite ground in front of me. I had dreamt of each event of that match, when you would step on the grass, when you would bowl your first delivery, when you would get your first wicket, may be a typical plumb in front of Ramnaresh Sarwan or a nick to your Doosra by Marlon Samuels I would leapt in joy, shout my heart out and even start doing a bhangra with my terrible dancing ability.
But everything is lost now. You are not coming to Eden Gardens to play your 100th test match. They will be players like Sachin, Dhoni, Gautam and Rahul but I will miss you my friend. There will not be another Harbhajan Singh amidst all those great names.
Another T20 match is going to start in some time. Let me go now. I need to be ready for the occasion. But I will be sad, the club house, the big scoreboard, the lash green outfield they are sad. They are going to miss their man, their passionate friend called Bhajji.
That’s it for today from my side. I will write to you again pretty soon.
Yours,
Eden Gardens
PS. I may have been teary eyed while reading the news of you being dropped from the team. Hence, I missed one small detail. The latest team is for the first test only and you can still come back for the second test. But even if that miracle happens you will play your 99th test match here and not the 100th one. But still I will be overjoyed to welcome you. Something is always better than nothing, isn’t it? Your dream of playing your 100th test here is shattered but you don’t always get all the wickets you deserve in the game of life. Right Bhajji?
Your friend, E.G.

2 comments:

  1. A huge Kumble fan over the years, I have often found myself on the other side of Bhajji during arguments. This article, well, managed to convert me somewhat.

    Well-written.

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  2. Abhishekda, Anil is a legend and one of the true fighters of Indian cricket.
    Bhajji may not be as good as him but he is pretty decent actually. Another true fighter who shows all his happiness and anger on the field. I always think he is somewhat misunderstood by public.
    I remember what you told me yesterday and if he can really make a comeback like that then Indian cricket will be in very good shape for next few years.

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