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Monday, 5 November, 2001, 13:22 GMT
The renaissance of Harbhajan
An unhappy Harbhajan sits out the Bloemfontein Test
An unhappy Harbhajan sits out the Bloemfontein Test
BBC Sport Online looks at the mercurial talents of India's premier off-spinner, Harbhajan Singh.

The Australians call him "The Turbanator", he refers to himself as "a simple middle-class boy from Jalandhar" - however he is known, no one in the cricket world will have failed to hear of Harbhajan Singh.

Harbhajan's exploits against Australia last March - 32 wickets in a three-Test series, 28 of them in the last two - are already legendary, but there is so much more to the softly spoken Punjab-born off spinner than is widely known.

It has been forgotten, for instance, that he was an outcast from international cricket for 18 months before that home series, and was brought back only because of injury to Anil Kumble.

As far as India's selectors were concerned, he was little but trouble.

He had been thrown out of the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore for disciplinary reasons, almost thrown out of his job at Indian Airlines, fined in his first international series and branded a "chucker" due to a suspect action.

Justin Langer is another Harbhajan victim
Justin Langer is another Harbhajan victim

When his father died, leaving him head of a family of five sisters and with a ball-bearing and valve factory to oversee, it would have been easy for the 20-year-old to disappear from cricket completely.

But Harbhajan's reaction was to confront his responsibilities.

Packed off to spend time Fred Titmus, the former England off-spinner for remedial work on his bowling action, he returned to India with a shorter run-up, a smoother action and a burning desire to prove a point.

When the chance arose because of Kumble's shoulder injury, he was brought back at the insistence of India skipper Sourav Ganguly and proved unstoppable.

In a world where, we are told, mystery is everything if a spinner wants to succeed, there are remarkably few tricks to Harbhajan's trade.

Aussie nightmares

Time and again Australian batsmen fell - 13 at Calcutta and 15 at Chennai - having misread the length and bounce generated from a high action.

Adam Gilchrist, in particular, tied himself up in knots. Four times in five innings, the Aussie vice-captain fell to Harbhajan, once as the middle victim of a hat-trick.

And more than one Australian had trouble with the quicker seamer that left the right-hander, learned from Sachin Tendulkar and generally bowled with a newish ball.

Harbhajan hit the winning runs in Madras
Harbhajan hit the winning runs in Madras

It was, however, Harbhajan's control that impressed Erapalli Prasanna, the much-respected former India spinner, during that series, with the only criticism being that he bowls a little too fast for his liking.

Possibly because of these comments, Harbhajan is talking of having adding a slower ball to his armoury.

It is hardly surprising that he has struggled to maintain his incredible recent success.

Against Zimbabwe, he did himself few favours by visibly expecting a wicket with every ball, and ending with eight at 29.

And against Sri Lanka he was embarrassed by Muttiah Muralitharan.

What was supposed to be a head-to-head to determine the best off-spinner in the world turned into a complete mismatch. Murali took 23 wickets at 19 in three Tests, Harbhajan four at 73.

But those matches were away from home and England will be his first opportunity to play Test cricket in familiar conditions since Australia.

It's another wicket for 'The Turbanator'
It's another wicket for 'The Turbanator'

Supposedly he has mellowed, but the self-belief required to succeed at the top is still there, occasionally spilling over into arrogance.

"If I can get Sachin (Tendulkar) out in the nets, and Steve Waugh out in the middle, there should not be any problems with the rest of them," he said on his arrival in South Africa.

But it should not be forgotten that Harbhajan is not alone in having displayed a little too much fire for administrators' liking early in his career, and that his railing against authority can in large part be explained by his age at the time of his father's death.

If nothing else, however, it did teach him that there is more to life than cricket.

"In the long run I would like to take 300 wickets in Tests and even more in one-dayers," he said.

"But there are tasks to be accomplished on the home front as well. I have to marry off my two sisters as the other three are already married.

"It is a big responsibility."

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