Yahoonews, AFP, 08 November 2010
Spinner Harbhajan Singh was an unlikely hero for India with the bat on Monday, scoring a match-saving 115 as they drew the first Test against New Zealand. It was a maiden century for the gutsy number eight batsman and came when India were reeling at 65-6, staring at the ignominy of going down to the Kiwis, ranked a lowly eighth in the world.
With the dependable Venkatsai Laxman (91) for company, Harbhajan built a 163-run partnership for the seventh wicket to spare top-ranked India’s blushes. Harbhajan, playing his 88th Test, also chipped in an impressive 69 in the first innings to swell India’s total to 487.
"It was my dream to score a Test hundred," said the 30-year-old bowler after the match at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad. "But I never dreamt I would be the man of the match for my batting, not in Tests, maybe in one-dayers. A big thanks to Laxman, without whom I could not have scored this."
Asked why his celebrations on reaching three figures were a little muted, the Punjab player admitted he was exhausted. "I couldn’t celebrate much because I was too tired. My hands were a little sore because I had never batted that long in a match," he said.
A popular member of the Indian team, Harbhajan revealed that his teammates had been egging him all the time to go for the elusive hundred. "My team-mates had been telling me that I was capable of a big knock. So, a big thanks to Sachin (Tendulkar), Viru (Sehwag), for believing in me and everyone else who wanted me to score a century. Today, I didn’t disappoint them."
Harbhajan’s exploits were all the more remarkable because he prospered on a wearing wicket where some of his more accomplished teammates perished without offering much resistance. His audacity was evident when he walked down the track and unleashed a fierce flat-batted boundary off Chris Martin, who had cleaned up India’s top order on Sunday.
Harbhajan showed no signs of nerves even in the 90s and reached his 100 runs in style, with a lofted six off Daniel Vettori over long-off. "The wicket was slow. I knew I needed to back myself in the first few minutes and not make any silly mistakes. Once I got a start, I gained in confidence," Harbhajan said.
"Laxman was tapping my shoulder after every over and advising me. It was great to have him on the other side." Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said he had a quiet chat with Harbhajan after the team had finished day four on 82-6. "Last night I told Bhajji that this could be the most important innings in the series," he said. "We knew what Laxman is capable of, but we needed Harbhajan to stand with him." Luckily for him, Harbrhajan did not let the team down.