Former Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh revealed how he almost quit cricket and moved abroad after a difficult period in his life following the death of his father in 2000.
After making his international debut in 1998, Harbhajan Singh was dropped from the team and also saw him removed from the National Cricket Academy on disciplinary grounds. Just months later his father died, leaving Harbhajan Singh with a lot of negative thoughts.
“Coming back into the Indian team at that time seemed unlikely for me. There was so much negativity around and I was feeling that all roads to play top-level cricket were closed for me,” Harbhajan told former cricket, Aakash Chopra, during an online chat.
“Once, I also decided to leave everything and go abroad to work. I had a few friends there. I was ready to work at petrol pumps or wash utensils so that my family here would not face any problems,” he added.
However, his father’s wish that he became a top international cricketer saw him return to the game.
“After 2-3 months when I started playing cricket again, I realised that it was his wish that I played for India. So I decided that I have to play cricket for him,” Harbhajan said.
In the 2001 series against Australia, Anil Kumble’s injury presented Harbhajan Singh with another opportunity to represent India. He grabbed it with both hands taking 32 wickets in the series as India halted Australia’s 16-match winning streak to win the series 2-1.
“That series against Australia was the turning point for my career. I got a hat-trick and everything went for me. I was also there batting when we won the series. I feel that series was meant to happen just for me,” he said.
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A trip down the memory lane
Looking back at days before he was picked for India, Harbhajan Singh felt it was his ability to bowl a doosra that made the difference for him.
Harbhajan was called to bowl in a net session during a Test match in Mohali, but by the time he had reached all senior players had finished training and captain Mohammed Azharuddin was having lunch.
Bowling to Debashish Mohanty in the nets, he managed to dismiss him 3-4 times catching the eye of the players.
“When I was bowling, Sachin Tendulkar was standing by my side. He was bowling at the nets. I had bowled 7-8 deliveries to Mohanty and he got out 4-5 times. He was Mohanty after all, not Sachin Tendulkar,” the off-spinner said.
“Then, suddenly Ajay Jadeja saw me, he called Azzu bhai ‘look at this boy’, so he also saw me. Then Sachin spoke to me and he said ‘keep your focus on the game. I wish you all the best, I hope you play for India’,” he added.
Those words from Tendulkar strengthened Harbhajan’s will to play for India and within a year he was picked to play for the national team.
“Sachin’s words of advice were to keep my focus on the game. From that day I decided that I have to keep not only 100 percent, but 120 percent focus on my game. Because I realised that if I want to play for India, then I have to put in even more effort. That was the day when I was spotted, and a year later, I was playing Test cricket for India,” the bowler said.
Harbhajan Singh enjoyed a stellar career with the Indian team claiming 417 Test wickets at an average of 32.46. He also went on to win the 2007 ICC World T20 and the 2011 ICC World Cup with the Indian team.
Here’s the full video chat