It’s been nearly two decades that India and Australia played out that riveting Test match at the Eden Gardens in 2001, but Harbhajan Singh remembers it as it were yesterday. The offspinner, who starred in that match with a hat-trick and claimed match-figures of 13/196 revealed an interesting anecdote from the historic match, because of which he would miss watching what still remains India’s most memorable partnership.

Following on in the second innings, as Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman fought the formidable Australian bowling attack and forged a mammoth 335-run partnership while batting for over a day and more than 100 overs, Harbhajan revealed how Sachin Tendulkar advised him to stick to his seat, as a result of which the offspinner could never quite get a proper glimpse of the magic that transpired on the pitch.

“I remember that during that entire partnership, all of us in the dressing room didn’t leave our seats. This was because we were losing wickets rapidly in the second innings too, even though Laxman was there at one end. Once their partnership started developing, we stuck to our seats. It was a decision taken by Sachin Tendulkar,” Harbhajan told Times of India Wednesday.

“After they batted through a session, we told ourselves: ‘This is the first session in which no wicket has fallen, so let’s stick to the same seats.’ And that remained the pattern even the next day, when they batted the whole day! I was sitting in my seat inside the dressing room for that entire day. I didn’t see a single ball.”

At one stage on Day One, Australia were cruising at 193/1 with Mathew Hayden (97) continuing his glorious form from the previous Test in Mumbai. India realised that if they didn’t get wickets, Australia would be on their way to another humongous total. Harbhajan’s hat-trick got India back in the game but a Steve Waugh hundred (110) propelled Australia to 445.

In response, when India were bowled out for 171 in their first innings, the possibility of another three-day finish loomed large, but Laxman and Dravid turned it around with their partnership.

“The only time I left it was to clap for Laxman, who reached his hundred, and then again I went back to it before the next ball was bowled! After getting out, Dada took off his T-shirt and kept sitting on his chair with the towel on his shoulders,” he added. “Imagine, he went home, and the next day, he came back wearing a T-shirt, and after doing the warm-ups, he again took off his T-shirt and wore a towel, just like the previous day! It was like a film shoot, where the sequence and costumes have to be the same.”

Harbhajan finished the series with 32 wickets in the series, 13 of which came in the Eden Gardens as he became just the first Indian to record a Test hat-trick for India. In three balls, Harbhajan dismissed Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne as Australia, from 245/4, slumped to 252/7.

“I remember S Ramesh’s superb catch at forward short leg which got Shane Warne out and helped me complete my hat-trick,” Harbhajan added. “That was the only time when he was awake on the field. Normally, he was a very laidback guy. However, the quick reflexes that he showed that day left us all stunned. You should see the way Rahul Dravid celebrated after Ramesh took that catch. The way he hugged Ramesh, it looked like as if he had taken a hat-trick.”

Prior to the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2001, Harbhajan had played eight matches picking up 21 wickets. Yet, the offspinner was certain that if he didn’t perform against Australia, it could well end his career. In the first Test at the Wankhede which India lost by 146 runs, Harbhajan had picked up four wickets in the first innings, and after claiming two five-fors in Kolkata, Harbhajan went to Chennai and picked up 15 there including 8/84 which remains his best figures in Test matches as India secured a memorable 2-1 win.

“I knew it that if I didn’t do well in that series, my career would’ve been over. Before that series, I was involved in an (unpleasant) incident at the NCA). I was out of the team. As a result of that, a few selectors and some people in the BCCI didn’t want me in the side,” Harbhajan revealed.

“However, our skipper, Sourav wanted a spinner who could pick wickets. Before the series, the team management called all the spinners, including me (I’d taken 28 wickets in four matches), who were doing well in domestic cricket at that time, for a camp. There, they saw that I was hitting the ‘target’ better than the others.”