Time is on my side: Harbhajan Singh
“I’m only 31…and even though the last seven wickets have made me work harder, (I’m hopeful) the next 200 will come very soon,” said Harbhajan after the end of second day’s play in the third and final Test against the West Indies here.
Harbhajan accounted for Darren Sammy (20) and Carlton Baugh (60) within a space of 9 balls to reach the milestone, a summit which only two other Indians and 10 bowlers overall have ever managed in the history of the game.
Harbhajan, who has spent over 13 years in international cricket, then went down the memory lane and recalled the difficulties he endured to come thus far.
“I have faced a lot of ups and downs in my career — mostly downs. I’ve worked hard for these wickets. Spinners mature with age. Most of them, be it Anil (Kumble) bhai, Shane Warne, (Muttiah) Muralitharan took a lot of wickets after they turned 30.
“Time is on my side; I am still very young and there is a lot of cricket left in me. I have to start doing even better for Team India and start taking a lot of wickets. If I keep myself fit, I will be able to do it.
“It’s not easy to take even one wicket in international cricket. Batsmen are watching you all the time. You have to keep adding variations. Just line and length is not enough.
You have to make sure you are not left behind. Off-spinners now are coming to bowl from round the wicket. You have to keep trying new things,” Harbhajan said.
“Batsmen these days come and play their shots. I remember 10 years back, all the bowlers were averaging 25, 26 or 27. These days the normal average is 30 plus.
“When I have my good days, I take wickets. On bad days, I try not to give too many runs,” he added.
The ‘Turbanator’ looked back at the last few years; the seasons when he bowled without Anil Kumble at the other end.
“Anil bhai was a very big bowler for Team India. After he left, there’s been a lot of responsibility. The good thing is that Zaheer has been there to take it.
“I have the greatest of regard for Anil bhai. It was he who made us believe that we could win Tests abroad. We had a meeting in Sri Lanka where he said we should be number one in two years time. Exactly two years later, we are number one,” he said.
“I respect him the most. He was a great bowler and a greater individual. He has helped me a lot to become what I am today. I know when I need his help, he is just a phone call away.”
In the same breath, Harbhajan also remembered how his friend, the iconic Sachin Tendulkar, helped him add variations to his bowling.
“Whenever I bowl to Sachin in the nets, I ask him what I should be doing. When I tour Australia or New Zealand, I take his advice. He showed me how to bowl a slider, a kind of outswinger, which I have used in ODIs and even taken wickets in Tests. But a slider can only be bowled with a new ball.”
Bhajji remembered his former captains and the support he has had from some outstanding fielders in the close cordon.
“My first captain was (Mohd) Azharuddin. Then I played a couple of games under Sachin. When Sourav became captain, he gave me a lot of confidence. I took a lot of wickets under him. He supported me all the way. (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni has been great with Team India. I just hope he continues doing what he is doing. Under each captain, I know I have given my 100 per cent.
“During my time, Shiv Sunder Das was very good in close-in cordon. Sadagopan Ramesh normally sleeps a lot but that day he was awake to take a blinder offered by Warne. It gave me a hat-trick. Aakash Chopra was outstanding. Cheteshwar Pujara was very good in South Africa.
“Then Rahul Dravid is very special. He has taken 50 catches off me. I hope another 50 will come very soon.”
Harbhajan also remembered the great deliveries and great batsmen he has bowled to in his career.
“I remember my first wicket — Greg Blewitt. Then the doosra which got Michael Hussey in Bangalore. He left it outside his off-stump and it came a long way to hit the off-stump. I thought only Murali bowled those kind of balls!
“Ricky Ponting, I got him many times, but he is a great batsman. Matthew Hayden, Brian Lara, Steve Waugh were all special.”
The feisty off-spinner spoke about the worst moments of his life; the aggressive character that he is; as well as the charge that he needs to take an early wicket to get going.
“When I lost my dad, it was the worst period of my life.
I didn’t want to play cricket thereafter. He dreamt of me playing for the country. I am sure, wherever he is sitting today, he is happy his son has achieved something special .
“I have seen all the greats — Warne, Murali, Anil bhai and McGrath — become a different bowler when they take a wicket in their first spell. You feel more confident, you feel you can plan differently now that you have a wicket behind you.”
“I am aggressive in my cricket. I am not there to make friends. Aggression is part of my success and I would try to have it as long as I can.”