I bowl to take wickets, not to contain batsmen: Harbhajan
Harbhajan "Turbanator" Singh commanded respect against the Zimbabweans in the recent Test series but by the high standards he has set in recent times, he was deemed to have been a relative failure. But the likeable young lad who is cheerful to a fault and has a disarming smile isn't worried. He says that as long as his coach and captain are happy and as long as he is happy with his own rhythm and line of attack, he is unwilling to lose sleep over it. Excerpts from an interview:
Q: Harbhajan, you were not as successful against the Zimbabweans as you were at home against the Australians. You had a haul of 32 wickets in that series whereas here you picked up just eight wickets in two Tests. What was the reason?
A: After the series against the Australians, people have great expectations from me. I take it as a positive sign that people expect me to take wickets whenever I come in to bowl. But looking at the conditions and wickets in Zimbabwe, and the Kookaburra ball which is used here, I think I bowled as well as I could have in these circumstances. You must have noticed that even though I might have bowled 20 overs or more, I haven't conceded many runs. I also finished third in the averages. Frankly speaking I am happy with my bowling on this tour. I think I have bowled alright. Looking at the fact that we would be touring Sri Lanka and South Africa soon, it was a great learning experience for me to try and understand how one should bowl in foreign conditions and deceive batsmen.
Q: You keep mentioning the Kookaburra balls are different. How does it affect a spinner?
A: I will not say it affects all spinners but Indian spinners, yes. It is just a matter of habit. We are used to playing with SG balls. Someone like Shane Warne likes bowling with the Kookaburra ball. I think we have to learn fast how to bowl in these conditions. More so since we are going to play most of our cricket abroad in the next season. So it makes sense to get used to Kookaburra balls. I will be trying hard to use them well on these hard surfaces, how to deceive batsmen in the air, keep a good line and length. Also, I think you can't experiment too much abroad. If your line and length is good, you can take wickets anywhere in the world. We have the prime example of our old spinners. Class spinners like Bishan (Bedi) Paaji have taken wickets everywhere in the world. If he and other past Indian spinners can take wickets abroad, we would also try to come out of home, perform well and take wickets abroad.
Q: Each game is an education. How much has this tour been an experience?
A: Line and length is the key. But variations are also important. It is very important a spinner possesses it. Like a leg-cutter and a yorker, you must know how to mix them up. If you bowl with variations, it would not be easy for batsmen to get going on any surface.
Q: Before the tour started, you had mentioned you have worked out a plan for Andy Flower, making him drive all the time and not allow him to cut or flick. Are you happy with the way you bowled to him?
A: Yes, I am happy. Though I did bowl to him before in the previous series in 1998, I was confident I would get him out. I did get him, by God's grace, in the second innings of the Harare Test.
Q: You have batted very well in this series.
A: The point is if you bat well in an international series once, you have the confidence you can do it again. I had made some runs against Australia in the last series. It has given me a great deal of confidence. I said to myself: If you can get it against Australia, you can get it against any team. In the Ranji Trophy too this year, I have made good scores. So whenever I got a chance to go into the middle, I always felt I could contribute 30-40 runs.
Q: How would you describe yourself as a batsman?
A: In batting, I think my footwork is not very good but my eyesight is very good. I can spot the ball early. Still there is a lot of improvement needed in my batting because the next few series are going to be tougher. I will try to improve more and more on my batting.
Q: Do you like to bowl defensively or aggressively?
A: I have always been an aggressive bowler. I always bowl to take wickets, and not to contain batsmen. I don't get joy if I bowl 20 overs and concede only 30 runs. I think if I bowl 30 overs, I should have 4-5 wickets.
Q: But what happens in the one-dayers? There you are required to bowl defensively?
A: I have a different theory. I feel if you can keep the runs down, you are bowling aggressively and committing batsmen to make stupid shots which would bring their downfall sooner or later.
Q: When you are bowling, what kind of bowler you want from the other end?
A: I think one would love to have a bowler at the other end who keeps the runs down to a trickle. It is a great help because you know batsmen would try to go after you and then you would have a chance. When Anil bhaiya (Kumble) will be back, it would be great because he is a big bowler and he has always done well for India in all conditions. It will be great when we operate together for the country.
Q: Coming back to the Australian series, it was remarkable how you had the visiting batsmen in a bind, especially Ricky Ponting who is in such a fabulous nick in England currently.
A: If you notice, Ponting doesn't have a good defence. He likes to attack all the time and when made to defend, he lunges at deliveries. He is an easy candidate for catches in the close-in cordon.
Q: You were not quite so successful against Matthew Hayden throughout the Test series?
A: He was in good nick and sweeps very well. It was difficult to set a field because he was sweeping the ball in the arc between mid-on and fine leg.
Q: Who do you think plays you best?
A: It has to be Steve Waugh. He is the best batsman I have ever bowled to. He seems to know in advance what I would be bowling. I really enjoyed taking his wicket in the last series. After the game was over, I went to him and said you are a great batsman. He encouraged me by saying I am a good bowler as well.
Q: You seem to bowl well against right handers rather than against left-handers which is quite contrary to what other off-spinners in the game feel?
A: Yes, I am different and it is because of a logical reason. Against right-handers, I can plan my attack better than against left-handers. I am also not very comfortable in going round the wicket.
Q: What is your bowling philosophy?
A: You should just try to bowl well. You should not try to take wickets. If you are running in well and bowling well, the rest will follow. I will tell you something. When I was young, I really enjoyed bowling. I personally feel I bowled better when I was young. I could really impart fizz to deliveries and could spin and bounce a great deal more. But as I gained height, I have struggled sometimes to get the same loop in my deliveries.