Monday, October 26, 2009

I don't like someone sitting on my head:Harbhajan

Harbhajan Singh has survived the hard grind of international cricket for 10 years now. In doing so, the 29-year-old off-spinner has taken 330 Test wickets to become the country's most successful off-spinner. In a freewheeling chat, Harbhajan talked about being mentored by Kumble, his verbal tussles with the Aussies and his captaincy ambitions. Excerpts...

Ten years of international cricket. What has the experience been like?

It has been a fulfiling journey. Ten years back, I never thought I would be where I am today. I didn't have the guts to enter a five-star hotel because I came from a very humble background. But because of cricket, I got to see the world and meet people and all that has been a great experience.

To be honest, I've never set any goals in life. I just found a way through cricket and kept following that path right through. Of course, there have been distractions, the glitz and glamour and stuff like that, but you must keep your feet on the ground. Once I started playing for India, lots of people became friends with me and my life changed completely.

They say spin bowlers get better with age. How true is that in your case?

That's true not just for spinners but for every cricketer. The more you play, the more you learn. If you look at the graph of great bowlers like Shane Warne, Anil Kumble or Muttiah Muralitharan, they got better and better with age and experience and took more wickets. So one does get better, provided one wants to learn and improve. I can say that I have better control over my art than before.

How much did you enjoy bowling with Kumble?

Honestly, I loved bowling with Anilbhai. Playing with him, I've learnt a lot not just about spin bowling but also on how one should prepare for a match. He set such a high standard for himself, as if he had to get every batsman out and had to win the match on his own. I feel honoured to have played with him for 8-9 years. In fact, without Anilbhai around I don't think I could have played for 10 years. When things are not going well, you need someone like Anilbhai around to try and help you out.

You always seem to be at war with the Aussies. What is it about them that provokes you?

No, no there's nothing like that. The Australians are fiercely proud competitors and they have been a great side for a while now. I just try to be as competitive as I can be and give my best. Like anyone else, I want to do well against the best team in the world. It feels great to be performing against the best.

But there were a few incidents in the last Test series (2007-08) in Australia...

I have been very stubborn from my childhood. If I want to achieve something, I am ready to slog for it. I know they are the best team and they would like to dominate or intimidate me by saying something or by provoking me in some way or the other. But all you have to do is to back your game and believe in your ability. I don't like someone sitting on my head. As I said, I have been stubborn and adamant since my younger days and I enjoy taking them on. Like Anil Kumble, I try not to give up till the last ball. After all, I am playing for my country and that is the biggest thing for me. I don't go out on the field to make friends.

Can you single out any Aussie player who is different, one who is a thorough gentleman?

I don't interact with a lot of Australian players. But among the few I have spoken to, Brett Lee is cool and so is Stuart Clark. Generally all of them are nice but very competitive on the field. It's good to be like that. No hard feelings. Whatever happens on the ground, I leave it there.

You were also involved in an ugly incident with Sreesanth. Do you regret it?

Well, that shouldn't have happened, but it has and I have come out of it and moved on. I had to prove myself all over again to my friends, fans and well-wishers. However bad a person I might be, when it comes to playing cricket, I want people to say this boy has got the b***s to play at this level. I made a mistake and I regret it.

Who's the toughest you have bowled to?

Brian Lara was in a different league. He was very, very good. Matthew Hayden was good too.

You have played under various captains right from Mohammad Azharuddin to Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Which captain got the best out of you?

Honestly, Sourav (Ganguly) was the one who got the best out of me. He knew when I was bowling aggressively and he always backed me because he knew I was trying everything to get the batsman out. He would say, 'Bhajji, bowl freely, bowl the way you want to bowl, enjoy, and be aggressive. Let your ball talk.' Some of my best performances have come under him.

Test cricket, One-day cricket, T20 cricket. What is your first choice and why?

Test cricket anyday. That is real cricket and also the true test for every cricketer. Honestly I would love to play 12-14 Test matches a year.

Have you set yourself a target, the kind of tally you like to have by the time you call it a day?

I don't set targets. I never thought I will be playing for India when I was so young. I was happy to play just one Test. Since then I have come a long way. Having said that, I would like to be someone like Anil Kumble, who has taken 600 Test wickets. I will be disappointed if I don't end up with at least 500 Test wickets.

Do you entertain any thoughts of leading the country in future?

Of course, yes! For any player, leading your country is the biggest thing. Not many people have been privileged to lead India and I would like to be in that list.

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