The Test match played against Australia in 2001 at the Eden Gardens Stadium is seen as the beginning of change in Indian cricket. This gave the team confidence. Saurabh Ganguly’s captaincy team had a historic win. An important reason for this is considered to be the historic partnership between VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid on behalf of the Indian team that came to play on the follow-on, but the foundation was laid by the hat-trick of off-spinner Harbhajan Singh. At that time Harbhajan was 20 years old.
In Australia’s first innings, he took three consecutive wickets from three balls. Australia’s score was 252 for four and captain Steve Waugh was at the crease with Ricky Ponting. Within three balls, Australia were reduced to seven wickets for 252 runs.
Harbhajan said, ‘That was a very important moment in my life. That hattrick gave me a lot of recognition, a lot of confidence that I could do it (doing well against the top team at a high level). I felt that if I can do against these players, then I can do well against any team. This was very important for me because as I said, it gave me a lot of recognition and people suddenly started trusting me. They thought this boy could do it. That series and hat-trick proved to be the turning point of my life.
Harbhajan put the ball at full length and Ponting and Adam Gilchrist played the ball going backward into the crease and could not get in the line. Shane Warne played the ball with the bat but he could not keep the ball down and was caught by Sadagopan Ramesh at forward short leg.
Harbhajan said, ‘To be honest, I did not think much about hat-trick. I wanted to bowl my best. There was no DRS at that time and LBW was not given out if you deliberately played the ball with the pad. If the ball was to turn, many batsmen would play the ball with their pads. The batsmen used to play the ball with a pad instead of a bat to avoid a catching fielder. Our strategy was to bowl at full length.
After Ponting, Gilchrist, when Warne came to play, Harbhajan thought that he too should stop the ball from the pad to avoid LBW. Harbhajan said, ‘I felt that I should bowl at full length. It was his first ball. I thought he would try to stop the ball from the pad. I bowled a full ball and he flicked the ball and Ramesh took probably the biggest catch of his life which made my life. It was a celebration occasion for every person on the field. I could see this because the way Rahul hugged Ramesh and the way he was celebrating the hattrick. This is what a team does. They were celebrating as if they had taken a hat-trick. ‘
With this match, Harbhajan and Ponting’s rivalry started. Harbhajan is the first bowler to take a hat-trick from India in Tests. Apart from him, Irfan Pathan and Jasprit Bumrah have taken hattrick.