Harbhajan Singh is the only active player from 2003 WC squad
Parthiv Patel was the last cricketer of India's 2003 World Cup squad who said goodbye to all forms of cricket recently. Out of the 15 payers who guided India to the final of that World Cup under the leadership of Sourav Ganguly, only one is there who has not said officially goodbye to all forms of cricket. He is Harbhajan Singh only Indian cricketer from 2003 World Cup squad to not have retired yet.
The 40-year old off-spinner from Jalandhar, called 'Bhajji' by his fellow cricketers was regularly participating in the Indian Premier League. He was representing Mumbai Indians since 2015 and then joined Chennai Super Kings in 2018. He only pulled him out of the 13th edition of Indian Premier League (IPL), citing personal reasons. The IPL this season was held in closed-door stadiums in Dubai due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bhajji's last Test and One-Day International (ODI)
Harbhajan Singh participated in his last Test against Sri Lanka at Galle five years ago in 2015. But he seemed to have lost all his previous sharpness in the bowling. In the first innings, Harbhajan Singh bowled eight overs, earned only one maiden, and finished without bagging a wicket giving away 17 runs. His economy rate was 2.13. In the second innings, the off-spinner was given 17 overs to bowl. Still, he failed to impress, capturing only one wicket at the cost of 73 runs without a maiden over and the economy rate was 4.29. He participated in his last ODI in 2015 against South Africa in Mumbai. In that fifth ODI, the Punjab off-spinner also failed to show his glimpses of old magic as he was able to capture only one wicket giving away 70 runs in 10 overs.
The glorious days
Harbhajan made his debut in the Test against Australia in the third Test of the series in Bengaluru in 1998. In his first appearance, the right-arm spinner who had been embroiled in a couple of major controversies in the cricket life later was not able to impress much. In the first innings, he bagged only two wickets giving away 112 runs in 23 overs while in the second innings having bowled 6 overs Harbhajan returned without a wicket against 24 runs.
But with Anil Kumble being injured and failing to return to the Test squad, Harbhajan's fortune changed as Sourav Ganguly, the Indian skipper that time called Harbhajan for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy against Australia in 2001. That series helped to culminate the spinner. He hit the history book to become the only Indian to have acquired the first hat-trick in a Test at Eden Gardens, scalping Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, and Shane Warne in three deceptive deliveries in the second innings of the Test to turn it in favor of India. The Eden Test has entered the history of cricket with VVS Laxman's magnificent 281 as well as Harbhajan's magic bowling. The spinner bagged 32 wickets in that three-Test series. Harbhajan Singh only Indian cricketer from the 2003 World Cup squad to not have retired yet and commented very recently that the 2001 series against Australia helped him to transform as a bowler of international standard and he achieved the required competence to perform abroad also.
Simultaneously, that historical victory against Australia had also given birth to a dual between Harbhajan Singh and Ricky Ponting on the crease. Harbhajan had dismissed Ponting five times in that 2001 series. Ponting's score was below 12 in all the dismissals! Harbhajan has taken part in 103 Tests and bagged 417 wickets at an economy rate of 2.84. His best performance with the ball was 8 wickets for 84 runs.
Harbhajan Singh has come across a couple of major controversies since his cricket journey began in 1998. Initially, his high-arm action created dispute as it was being criticized that his bowling was exceeding the 15-degree limit. However, he overcame it and continued to excel. But in 2008 Harbhajan's confrontation with Andrew Symonds, termed as 'Monkey-Gate' during India's tour of Australia created one of the ugliest controversies in cricket history. Harbhajan was initially charged with the racial insult to the Australian all-rounder. Later it was reduced to 'abuse' on appeal.
In the later part of the same year, Bhajji was once again embroiled in another notable controversy after had slapped his fellow Indian teammate Sreeshant after the completion of the IPL match between Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab at Mohali. Harbhajan, the captain of Mumbai Indians had lost the three initial matches in the League and he was angered by Kings XI Punjab's Sreeshant's aggressive sending-off of the Mumbai batsmen. So, Harbhajan, being outraged by Sreeshant's attitude, slapped him when the players of two teams were shaking hands after Kings XI Punjab registered a convincing victory against Mumbai Indians, and as a result, the off-spinner received a ban for the remainder of the whole IPL season.
2003 World Cup
Harbhajan Singh was however consistent in the 2003 World Cup, held in Australia. He captured 11 wickets from 10 matches at an economy rate of 3.29. Harbhajan participated in all the matches of the 2003 World Cup except in the match against arch-rivals Pakistan in the group phase. Harbhajan's counter-part Anil Kumble took part in only three matches in that World Cup. Interestingly, In the World Cup Harbhajan never captured more than 2 wickets in each match, but also did not give away more than 42 runs from 10 over's quota in none of the matches. Even in the final against Australia Harbhajan's bowling figure was 2 wickets for 42 runs in 8 overs. He was the fourth leading wicket-taker of India in the championship.
The rest has retired
Out of 15 Indian cricketers who had taken part in 2003 World Cup only Harbhajan Singh only Indian cricketer from 2003 World Cup squad to not have retired yet. Among the other 14 members, all have said goodbye to all forms of cricket. Starting from Sourav Ganguly, the captain of the Indian team, presently the president of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Rahul Dravid, presently in charge of youth development of Indian cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, Ajit Agarkar, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Virender Sehwag, Javagal Srinath, Yuvraj Singh, Sanjoy Banger, Mohammad Kaif, Sanjoy Banger, and Dinesh Mongia-all have bid adieu to the all forms of cricket.