Two of the most controversial Indian cricketers of modern times are Sreesanth and Harbhajan Singh. But while Sree usually gets the worst out of it and finds himself out of the team for long periods (he now finds his career at an end actually), Bhajji always seems to get out of the situation and have the last laugh.
Before Bhajji could even establish himself as an international cricketer, he was reported for suspect bowling action. While that might have finished the career of lesser mortals, Bhajji came back with a bang and it is an achievement that he has played 100 Tests and taken more than 400 wickets to add to his 250+ ODI wickets.
Bhajji clashed with Aussie Ricky Ponting and both exchanged bad words on the field in the famous Test series of 2001. Both of them were pulled up by the match referee and docked part of their match fees.
While Ponting totally lost the plot after that, Bhajji came out on top. The Aussie scored an abysmal 17 runs in the whole series at a pathetic average of 3.4, his worst ever series. Bhajji on the other hand took a hat-trick and emerged as the man of the match in the deciding match. He also picked up the man of the series for his 32 wickets.
Ponting never really recovered on Indian soil and has just one century in 25 innings and averages just 26. He also never won a Test as captain in India. Harbhajan also dismissed Ponting 10 times in his Test career.
In 2002, Bhajji fought with police outside his hotel room and he injured his playing hand. It is ironic that at the same time he was offered a post with the Punjab police!
Bhajji was at the thick of things again when Indian captain Sourav Ganguly had a spat with coach Greg Chappell. Bhajji openly backed Ganguly and criticized Chappell, even accusing him of instilling “fear and insecurity” into the Indian cricket team.
While both Ganguly and Chappell perished, Bhajji continued.
Bhajji lost his place in the team after the 2007 ODI World Cup debacle when we were eliminated in the first round itself, but that just proved to be a minor blip in his career.
2008 was infamous for the Monkeygate scandal that threatened to tear apart the peace of international cricket. Aussie Andrew Symonds accused Bhajji of calling him a monkey and the former was banned.
However, the tables were ultimately turned. While Harbhajan got away due to lack of evidence, others were not so lucky. Indian nemesis and umpire Steve Bucknor, who was at the centre of a controversial decision, was dropped from the next Test and never officiated again.
Symonds soon had a falling out with his own board and retired from international cricket. Even his IPL career was cut short despite being one of the most talented all-rounders in the world.
In the very same year, Bhajji slapped Sree. Bhajji was suspended from both the IPL and the Indian ODI team. While there should have been sympathy for Sree and anger against Bhajji, it was instead the other way round. Many players reportedly congratulated Bhajji for putting Sree in his place.
Now that Sree has been caught in the latest IPL spot-fixing scandal, Bhajji finds himself the unlikeliest hero in cyberspace. Already many memes are floating around in social networking sites celebrating Bhajji’s "advance" action against Sree.
Harbhajan has been pulled up by the ICC many times and has almost seen his playing days end at many times in his career and yet, he somehow always manages to come back from the brink.
In fact if 2008 saw Monkeygate and Slapgate, Bhajji received a Padma Shri in the very next year.
Even in 2013, Bhajji looked like staring at retirement in the face, but still managed to become part of the Indian team that thrashed the Aussies 4-0. Despite always rubbing these particular opponents the wrong way, Bhajji has his best memories against the Aussies.
Harbhajan is just 32 and could yet revive his career with the kind of luck he has enjoyed all his life.
It must be said that Bhajji always has the last laugh!The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/