Veteran India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh revealed that he was about to attack Pakistan batsman Mohammed Yousuf with a fork when the two teams faced each other in the 2003 World Cup at Centurion.
India beat Pakistan by six wickets in the Super Six match. The 38-year-old, recalling the infamous episode, said that tempers flared between him and Yousuf over a conversation during lunch, and that they had to be separated by teammates.
After electing to bat first, Pakistan scored 273/7 and the pressure was on India. So what exactly happened? “It started with a joke but then got ugly. I was dropped for that game and Anil bhai [Kumble] was playing because team management felt he was a better choice keeping in mind his good record against Pakistan,” Harbhajan Singh was quoted as saying by PTI.
“I was a bit down and it can happen when you aren’t in the XI. During the lunch time, I was sitting at one table and Yousuf and Shoaib Akhtar were at the other table right across in the common area.”
He added, “We both speak Punjabi and suddenly, while we were pulling each other’s legs. He [Yousuf] made a personal comment and then made remarks about my religion. I shot back. We both had a fork in our hand and got up from our chairs, ready to attack each other.”
Harbhajan Singh said that he received a telling off from his seniors. “Rahul [Dravid] and Sri [Javagal Srinath] stopped me while Wasim bhai [Akram] and Saeed bhai [Anwar] took Yousuf away. The seniors in both sides were irritated with the episode and we were told that this was not the right behaviour.”
“It’s 16 years now. Both of us [Yousuf and I] have a good laugh about it.”
Harbhajan Singh said that pressure was immense during the 2011 World Cup semi-final. He played a big role in Mohali for his side with crucial breakthroughs.
“That match was different. People thought the law of averages would catch up. Mohali is my home ground and everyone wanted us to just win – the fans, the media, the hype was insane,” he recalled.
Indian cricketers have always shared a cordial relationship with their Pakistani counterparts, as Shahid Afridi mentioned in his book. “I have a good friendship with Shahid and Shoaib [Akhtar]. We have hung out together, had meals. We spoke the same language, our preference of food, music lot of things are common. But yes, once you cross that boundary rope, friendship does take a back seat,” he said.