Harbhajan Singh November 17, 2004

'I'm still the same fighter'

The wounds inflicted by the Australians are very fresh on Harbhajan Singh's mind

The wounds inflicted by the Australians are very fresh on Harbhajan Singh's mind. The defeat still rankles, despite a good personal tally of 21 wickets. But his fighting spirit is still to the fore as he speaks to Nagraj Gollapudi about the Australia series, India's lack of direction, and much, much more:

Harbhajan Singh: his fighting qualities remained to the fore throughout the Australia series © Getty Images

You have made a very good comeback after finger surgery - have you made any subtle changes?
Not really. I have been just concentrating on bowling with a good rhythm since my comeback. I was very confident about bouncing back even when I was recuperating, which helped me. Obviously, it was frustrating when I was injured, watching the team from outside. But with the grace of God I came back strongly, and have done well so far.

Is it still hampering your rhythm?
The surgery never restricted me. It was just in my mind that I was thinking: "How it will heal? How I will bowl again? And will I would bowl the same way I used to?" All those negative thoughts creep into the mind in such situations. But I just needed to concentrate and trust in myself. I had done well in the past and once I was fit again I would be back on top. It was just a matter of confidence.

You are bowling a lot slower than in the past. Is that deliberate?
I have not changed in my bowling style. Yes, a few alterations have appeared, but it depends on the surface: sometimes you have to bowl quick like on the Bombay wicket in the last Test against Australia. In the first Test at Bangalore I bowled slower, because I was trying to deceive them in the air.

Were you satisfied with your performances against Australia?
If you talk about just my performances, I am very pleased with them. I have done quite well against Australia, but unfortunately we lost the series though we won the last match, which was a really good one. A series haul of 21 wickets gave me lot of confidence and restored my faith in myself. It also shut those mouths which thought those 32 wickets during the 2001 series were flukes. Mind you, that time I was alone, and this time I was bowling with Anil [Kumble] who has more than 400 wickets.

In the end Australia won easily, and that's not the way we play our cricket. Something is really going wrong

What was the difference between the way Australia played spin in 2001 and now?
They were more confident: they played their shots, stepped out and used their feet and decided not to give us anything. They made sure that we would have to earn their wickets - even if the wicket was spinning they made sure they fought. I was not surprised by their good work, as they had played really well against [Muttiah] Muralitharan in the Sri Lanka series earlier in the year. They are the No. 1 team and we expected them to come back hard at us.

You pointed out how they had put the sweep-shot into cold storage. How did you adapt to that?
I don't think what the batsman thinks. What matters for me is that when I go out I play with my heart, put up a brave fight and give my all. And I know if I do that, I will do well no matter how the surface plays. It depends on how you motivate yourself when things are not going your way. Obviously everyone had prepared for this series for such a long time, and I had my strategies for players like Matthew Hayden, who was so successful on his last trip here. I knew what their game-plan was because they are all attacking players who like to play their shots. They basically didn't want me to settle down, because they knew my capabilities. It worked quite well at Bangalore in the first innings, but I didn't give up and earned a tally of 11 wickets in the end. In Chennai, I bowled quite well though I was bit unlucky - and at Bombay there were a few dropped catches which didn't do my figures any justice. But it is all part of the game.

Your doosra is not that frequent any more?
No, I've been bowling that a fair bit, and got quite a few wickets during the Australian series. That's a wicket-taking ball, so I will keep on bowling that.

And what about the mystery ball?
Everyone's getting out to my normal deliveries, so why would I want to use the mystery ball so soon! Let them just wait. Of course, it's there and it will come when I am really confident of bowling it. I have been working on it in the nets, but I am not confident at the moment to bowl it in a Test match.

Your one-day form has been superb, especially those two NatWest Challenge matches in England ...
I just think I am going through a good patch. In one-day cricket you just have to stick to line and length, bowl wicket-to-wicket and not try too many things - you just have to control your nerves and not be very aggressive and keep a cool mind. That's what I have done from the day I have come back. So nothing has changed, apart from the surgery. Obviously, my wickets tally has gone up, but I am still the same fighter with the same spirit.

Harbhajan Singh: his 32 wickets in 2001 were no fluke © Getty Images

The same can't be said about the Indian team. Where is it going wrong?
Our batting has not clicked from the beginning of this season, and we are just making too many mistakes. It is high time we sort out our problems because we are a much better team than the way we are playing - everyone knows that. Even the Australians were scared when they came here, knowing full well what India were capable of. They might have come with the ambition to win, but they weren't so sure about it. But in the end they did it easily, and that's not the way we play our cricket. Something is really going wrong.

What's happened to India's winning mentality?
As a unit, we are not playing as a good team, so we are not playing to our true potential. We have to think about where we are going wrong because it has gone on too long and this way we are letting everyone down. This will lead to changes in the team, the combination will be different - it's hard when newcomers come along, you require time to get to know each other and they are always under pressure to do well.

How much have India been missing the leadership skills of Sourav Ganguly?
Sourav is a great captain, a great motivator. He backs the youngsters, and I include myself in that, because he backed me even when I wasn't there and fought for me to be brought into the team. I am really thankful to him - he did something special by standing by me when I was alone, and no-one was talking to me. So, anybody would miss a spark like him.

Can you get back to winning ways against South Africa?
We have to make that happen. We have to work accordingly. We just lost that habit in the last four months, but it's just a matter of time. And I know that, when our time comes, we will play to our potential and beat everyone. We just have to keep the good memories fresh and forget the bad ones. OK, Australia have beaten us - which will always pinch me even though I took those wickets - but we have to look forward to the next series.