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Indian spin bowler Harbhajan Singh Image Credit: AP

Dubai: Eleven years after the most unsporting incident in Indian Premier League (IPL) which had India’s off spinner and then Mumbai Indians captain Harbhajan Singh slapping Kings XI Punjab pacer and Indian teammate Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Harbhajan regretted having done it and apologised to Sreesanth for the first time.

Singh, in an interview to Madan Gowri on Behind Woods Air, said: “If I have to go back and rectify something in life, I would correct that as I should not have done that. That is a mistake and I am sorry about it. It shouldn’t have happened.”

Speaking to Gulf News, Lalchand Rajput, who was the coach of the Mumbai Indians team during the 2008 incident and lost his job as he could not restrain Harbhajan during the altercation with Sreesanth, said: “I am happy that Bhajji (Harbhajan) has apologised. The players are ambassadors of cricket and the national team and they should control their temper and set an example through good conduct for junior cricketers.”

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Kings XI Punjab pacer S Sreesanth (L) in tears and Mumbai Indians captain Harbhajan Singh (R) who allegedly slapped him during the IPL T-20 match Image Credit: PTI

Incidentally, Rajput got fined 50 per cent of his match fees following the decision by the BCCI disciplinary committee that imposed a five-match One Day International ban on Harbhajan.

When asked about the financial penalty imposed on him, Rajput said: “How would I have known that Bhajji was going to hit him? It happened so suddenly. After he hit him, I grabbed Bhajji and took him aside to calm him down.”

'Still your brother'

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Kings XI Punjab pacer S Sreesanth is in tears after being slapped by Mumbai Indians captain Harbhajan Singh during the IPL T-20 match in Mohali Image Credit: PTI

The snap of Sreesanth crying after slap keeps popping up now and then as one of the most unsporting incidents in Indian cricket history.

During the interview, Singh said: “He (Sreesanth) is a top guy and he had so much of skill. My best wishes to Sreesanth and his wife … Lot of love to Sreesanth and whatever people may say, I am still your brother.”

According to Rajput, Harbhajan is a very sporting person otherwise.

“Harbhajan is a very nice guy at heart. He plays hard on the ground but outside the boundary, he is caring and very cheerful and full of masti and dhamal (fun and blast).”

In 2013, five years after the incident, Sreesanth got banned for life following his alleged involvement in spot-fixing in the IPL.

“It happened due to the heat of the moment. Harbhajan was the captain of Mumbai Indians for the first time and we had lost four matches in a row. After the incident, Harbhajan felt very bad and was uncomfortable over what happened,” Rajput, now the coach of the Zimbabwe national team, recalled.

Why Harbhajan slapped Sreesanth

Harbhajan Singh, who had stood in as the Mumbai captain, got angry over Shantakumaran Sreesanth's aggressive sending-off of his team’s batsmen.

Sreesanth, well known for his antics on field, did this to all the batsmen whom he dismissed and bowled Punjab to victory.

After winning the match, soon after Sreesanth came out of the field, Harbhajan slapped him.

The footage of Harbhajan slapping Sreesanth isn’t there, though people watching the match did witness a fierce Harbhajan and an emotional Sreesanth breaking down, on the TV screen after Punjab won the match.

The incident came to be known as IPL’s "slapgate."