The hop step, the swing of the arms and the perfect accuracy with the ball. For over a decade, off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was a regular in the Indian team and the Punjab native delivered time and again for his nation, often in tough situations, guiding them to victory on his own.

Harbhajan, fondly known as ‘Bhajji’, has represented India in 103 Test matches and picked up 417 wickets - third-most by an Indian bowler in the longest format of the game. The off-spinner also has 269 scalps in 236 ODIs and picked up 25 wickets in 28 T20Is for the Indian team.

Bhajji is one of the greatest bowlers in the history of the Indian Premier League (IPL), and with 150 wickets, ranks third on the all-time wicket-takers list in the world’s premier T20 competition. An ICC World Cup and T20 World Cup winner, and a four-time IPL champion, Harbhajan is one of the greatest Indian cricketers, and on the occasion of his 40th birthday, we take a look at this champion's best performances in a career spanning close to two decades:

Bhajji bamboozles Australia

After handing the Indian cricket team a crushing 10-wicket defeat in the series opener in Mumbai in 2001, the Australia cricket team headed to Kolkata, aiming to wrap up the series and win their 17th Test match in a row.

All was seemingly going to plan for the Aussies, as despite Harbhajan’s spell of 7/123 which included a hattrick, they posted a huge total of 445 before dismissing India for 171 and enforcing the follow-on. Trailing by 274, India were reduced to 232-4, but then, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman forged a mammoth 376-run partnership that helped the Indian side set a target of 384.

With a victory out of the question, the Australians were seemingly content to play for a draw but Harbhajan had other ideas. The off-spinner got India the breakthrough, dismissing Michael Slater, who was batting on 43, before dismissing Justin Langer just four overs later to throw the cat among the pigeons in the Australian dressing room.

After Harbhajan picked the prized wicket of Steve Waugh, the off-spinner and Sachin Tendulkar ran through the rest of the Australian batting line-up, picking up three wickets each to lead the Indian cricket team to one of its greatest victories in the sport. Harbhajan finished the match with figures of 13/196.

Harbhajan creates history 

With the wind in their sails after their victory at Kolkata, India headed to Chennai looking to hand the Aussies their first Test series defeat in three years, while the world champions were determined to show that the loss in Chennai was nothing more than a blip.  

Batting first, Australia were in cruise control at 340/3. However, Steve Waugh’s controversial dismissal was the start of an Australian collapse, as they lost seven wickets for just 51 runs, with Harbhajan picking six of those to finish the innings with career-best figures of 7/133.

India’s top-order put on a batting masterclass. Shiv Sunder Das, Sadagoppan Ramesh and VVS Laxman all smashed half-centuries before Tendulkar put the cherry on top with a brilliant innings of 126. Rahul Dravid also put 81 on the scoreboard as India finished with 501 at the end of their first innings.

Matthew Hayden, who smashed a half-century in Australia’s first innings, was dismissed cheaply in the second for 35, and from then on, it was the Bhajji show, as the spinner picked up eight of the remaining nine wickets to improve on his career-best from the first innings with figures of 8/84.

Chasing 155, India found themselves in a spot of bother at 135/7. However, Sameer Dighe held his nerve with the tail to guide India to a famous Test series victory over the mighty Aussies.

All-rounder Bhajji guides India to victory

In the first ODI at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium during England’s tour of India in 2006, Harbhajan Singh showcased that he isn’t just a world-class off-spinner but also quite handy with the bat.

With India batting first, the English pace trio of Kabir Ali, James Anderson and Liam Plunkett ran through the host’s batting order, reducing them to 146-7. In walked Harbhajan to partner MS Dhoni and the duo forged a 55-run partnership that took India past the 200-mark on the scoreboard. India lost the final two wickets for just two runs, setting a target of 203 for the visitors.

After Irfan Pathan got India two early wickets, keeper-batsman Matt Prior and Kevin Pietersen solidified the innings with a 50-run stand that threatened to take the game away from India. Skipper Rahul Dravid called Harbhajan into the attack and the off-spinner delivered, dismissing Prior to get India back in the game.

After fellow Punjab Ranji teammate Yuvraj Singh got rid of England skipper Andrew Flintoff, Harbhajan took over and picked up the next four wickets to complete his five-wicket haul and leave the visitors reeling at 141-8. Pathan and Yuvraj picked up the final two wickets as India won by 39 runs, but it was only possible due to an incredible performance with both the bat and the ball by Harbhajan.

Bhajji derails Chennai’s chase

In Season 4 of the IPL, Chennai Super Kings travelled to Wankhede to take on the Mumbai Indians in what was the first meeting between the two sides since CSK upset the home side in the Season 3 finale on the very same ground.

Batting first, Mumbai, after two early wickets, managed to post 164 on the scoreboard on the back of an incredible innings of 87 off 48 balls from Rohit Sharma. In reply, S Badrinath and Michael Hussey forged a solid partnership as Chennai found themselves in cruise control at 98-2 after 11.1 overs.

Lasith Malinga and Kieron Pollard picked up a wicket each in the next three overs to get Mumbai back in the contest, but with six wickets in hand and just 46 runs to get off the final 30 balls, Chennai were the favourites to win the grudge match. But Harbhajan, who had picked up the prized wicket of Suresh Raina, turned the tide of the contest in just a couple of overs.

Bowling the 16th over, Harbhajan gave away just four runs in the first five balls, building pressure on Anirudha Srikkanth to play a lofted shot, which went straight to the fielder at deep midwicket, getting Mumbai the much-needed breakthrough.

The off-spinner returned to bowl the 18th over and dismissed Albie Morkel, Ravichandran Ashwin and Joginder Sharma in the over to complete his first, and till date, only five-wicket haul in the IPL.

Malinga closed the game out with another tight over in the 19th and Munaf Patel bowled an expensive, but inconsequential final over to help Mumbai to victory. Harbhajan’s spell of 5/18 won him the Man of the Match award.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Ravi Raveendran