New Delhi: Call it a tryst with destiny or a comeback -- time and again Harbhajan Singh has made the headlines when it matters the most. And though one usually associates the term 'timing' with batsmen in cricket, but Bhajji has always been dramatically good with it, and that too with ball.
And, again, call it luck or whatever, a piece of history is always waiting to be scripted round the corner.
Take this: An upcoming spinner then, the young Punjab-lad is taken in the India team that is to tour Australia in 2000, but never gets a match. Quite naturally, with Anil Kumble around and the pitches in discussion being that of the MCGs and the SCGs, there's no way another spinner finds a place in India's scheme of things. India is humiliated to 3-0 whitewash.
The team returned and Harbhajan had nothing much to show in his kitty, not even to be picked up to play against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh at home. Not even in the domestic circuit. Harbhajan divulged much later that he had even thought about quitting the game and living a life of a driver in Canada at that time.
Thank cricket that he didn't! Australia was coming to India in 2001, and every Indian wanted blood. And with Kumble still out, Sourav Ganguly wanted Bhajji back - not to assist anyone, but lead the bowling attack.
India was drubbed in the Mumbai Test, and anyone who would stand up against the mighty Aussies in Calcutta was sure to be accorded a national hero-status. And he was. A 21-year-old was to launch the first assault on the Aussies by taking the first ever Test- hat-trick for India, and make the Eden Gardens crowd his own forever. He returned again to polish off the Aussie line-up after an epic from VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid. Sweet was that victory, and even sweeter for Bhajji. What a timing!
Once more: A dip in performance, coupled with off-the-field controversies - Bhajji wasn't in India's scheme of things again. And especially, after a disastrous World Cup.
But the inaugural World T20 was at hand, and Harbhajan again finds a place in the team out of the blue as many senior players opt out of the format. India manage to surprise every critic during the tourney as they move in to face its greatest rival ever, Pakistan.
Harbhajan hasn't had a prolific tournament, but has nonetheless managed to be in the scheme of things with seven wickets. The Group D match ends in a draw and Harbhajan, along with Virender Sehwag and Robin Uthappa clinches victory for India in a bowl-out -- the first ever in T20 international cricket. What a timing!
In the other 'blue': Injury came as a mask when Harbhajan is sent back mid-way from the humiliating England tour in 2011. He recovers and leads the Mumbai Indians to their first Champions League T20 title. He is Man of the Match in the finals!
Hurt, Heart... Harbhajan: An utterly disastrous Test tour of England had rattled the India ranks. And if anyone was least likely to find any shelter during this storm, it was Harbhajan Singh. Quite predictably he is left out of the team that plays host to the touring West Indies as well as for the series Down Under in 2011.
India return humiliated from Australia, but R Ashwin has shown ample potential to emerge the main-man in the spin department. And he backs it up with some seriously good performances on home soil.
In simple, there's no logic why another off-spinner should find a place in the team. That too, with young-blood being the call for T20 cricket (Oh, please, can we leave out that 'Brad Hogg-Jacques Kallis discussion for once!).
So, it was pretty much accepted that a 32-year-old Bhajji was being given a gratitude-outing in Sri Lanka by our selectors, and in actual, would have little role to play. Pictures from the island showed him in great spirits, playing soccer and joking with Yuvraj Singh during training sessions. But reality, if you are a that emotional man as Bhajji is, the Indian Ocean must have been on a tsunami mode inside him. Once the darling of the nation and a riddle to rival batsmen, here was a man waiting for a chance - if at all - after being out the India dressing room for over a year.
Comes the second match in Group A, and every Indian this time is baying for some English-blood. Dhoni and his men were subjected to over a month-long torture by this very team last year, and not only a win, but a crushing one would heal the wounds.
And, wait, do we see a certain Harbhajan Singh in the line-up? Well, we know that India is in Super 8, but isn't it England that we are playing against?
Alas, if only Dhoni knew what 'conventional' meant! And so, he tosses the ball to... well, anyone willing to take over the next paragraph from here?
Yes, yes, there's history too. Bhajji's 4/12 is the best ever by an Indian in T20 cricket. Well, what a timing!
Timing… tch tch!
2008. IPL. Harbhajan Singh slaps Sreesanth. Sends the Kerala-boy out crying and finds himself banned from rest of the tournament. Subsequently, also suspended by BCCI.
2009. Harbhajan Singh gets Padma Shri.
What a... err... timing!!!