'I'm still good enough to play for India' - Harbhajan
The final day of the Irani Cup was a sideshow to the national selection committee's meeting to pick India's squad for the first two Tests against Australia, and Harbhajan Singh, who won a second recall to the India side this season, was left to answer more questions about him being picked than leading Rest of India to a title.
"It's always tough to make comebacks," Harbhajan told reporters at the end of the final day. "I think I have been working really hard on my game, and just being there, trying to give everything I have, it's a new day and a new opportunity for me, that's all I kept telling myself. I'm still good enough to play for India and that's the reason I was playing cricket."
Harbhajan, who played in the Mumbai Test against England late last year before being left out, was included in the Rest of India side following a Ranji Trophy season in which he picked up 16 wickets in five games for Punjab at 32.25. He collected five wickets in the Irani Cup, three of them in the first innings. He was the better of the two spinners, the other being Pragyan Ojha, now a regular in the Indian Test side.
"When you play the Ranji Trophy, sometimes you may take wickets, sometimes you may not," he said about his domestic season. "We played most of our games in Mohali and on kinds of wickets that had a lot of grass. Sometimes the work you've done in your bowling won't show in the results. That could be a reason why the number of wickets I've taken is not in the high 30s or 40s, but I think I've bowled well for Punjab."
The track at the Wankhede Stadium, Harbhajan said, was the one he enjoyed bowling most on in India. "I'm really happy with the way my bowling rhythm is going. And I'm especially happy with the way I bowled here, especially to batsmen like Sachin [Tendulkar] and Wasim [Jaffer], who are very good players of spin bowling. I think I bowled with a lot of control on a true wicket and I'm very happy about it before the Test series."
The bowling attack that has been picked for the Australia series, Harbhajan believed, had the capability to take 20 wickets in a Test. "When I played in my first series against Australia, I was a nobody." Harbhajan made his debut against Australia in 1998, but shot to fame in a famous home series against the same side in 2001, when he picked up 32 wickets in three Tests. "All I can say is that Ishant [Sharma], [Ashok] Dinda, Bhuvan [Bhuveshwar Kumar] and the three spinners - we all have that opportunity and we have the quality to do that."
India were beaten 4-0 when they toured Australia in 2011-12, but Harbhajan said their batsmen's lack of experience in Indian conditions - only Michael Clarke and Shane Watson are among the Australian frontline batsmen to have played a Test in India - would be a challenge for the visitors. "They have a pretty new batting line-up. Apart from Clarke and Watson they have a lot of left-handers. They haven't played much Test cricket and they haven't played in India. This will be a challenging series for them. Hopefully we'll put them under pressure from the first day of the Test match and show how we play cricket here."
Siddhartha Talya is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo