Success springs from feeling secure - Harbhajan
Harbhajan Singh has said the main reason why India have been able to build on the winning momentum in the recent past is that the players are no more insecure about their place in the side. According to Harbhajan this separates the previous teams he was part of from the one led by MS Dhoni. Harbhajan, who finished the recent New Zealand series as the leading wicket-taker with 16 at 21.37, felt the team management's belief in the players has helped them counter all sorts of conditions.
"Why we are winning is because we are playing good cricket," Harbhajan told Cricinfo in Mumbai. "Everyone is performing, everyone is willing to be a champion. A lot of credit must go to the support staff and team management for giving the surety to all the players that they would be getting at least 10-15 games. That gives a player a lot of confidence."
Still to visit hometown Jalandhar after his return from New Zealand Harbhajan, who is busy doing promotional ads for his IPL team Mumbai Indians, said he was looking forward to making a comeback to the tournament after being shunted out last year for slapping Sreesanth. "I missed the whole IPL last year because of reasons well-known. But I'm looking forward to come back and it should be nice against Andrew Symonds, Matthew Hayden and all these big guys."
Harbhajan said while Twenty20 was a "batsman's game", he had learnt how to evade the batsman's assault and his performance in New Zealand would help him lead the Mumbai bowling attack. The New Zealand trip was his first overseas series after Anil Kumble's exit and Harbhajan said he just "wanted" to do well being the lead spinner. This was also his third tour to New Zealand and he wanted to make amends for the below-par performance on the previous occasions.
"It is always challenging bowling abroad - you don't get much spin, bounce. You do get bounce but you don't get sideways spin. It is always drifting kind of spin you get. Also with Anil bhai not being there it was challenging and there was a lot of responsibility on me as the senior spinner to do well. This was my third tour there and I'm glad that my wickets came at the right time - we won the game in Hamilton and we almost won it in Wellington, too."
Harbhajan's six-wicket haul in the second innings in Hamilton inspired India to a ten-wicket win, their first in 33 years in New Zealand. Then in the final Test in Wellington, bowling marathon spells against the wind he almost sealed victory with a seven-wicket match haul, but bad weather robbed India of a 2-0 victory. Harbhajan believes he wouldn't have managed to excel without the team's support . "As a team we did really well, forget my wickets. We deserved to win. This team can beat any side."
After Dhoni took over the Test captaincy during the home series against Australia last year India have been in top form, beating England at home, winning the ODI series in Sri Lanka and now in New Zealand. Never have India looked as insurmountable and Harbhajan felt it was because each player was contributing for the team and not himself. "Look at Gautam [Gambhir] - his performance now and earlier is so different. This team has a lot of talent of course like Viru [Sehwag], Gautam, Yuvraj [Singh], [MS] Dhoni, [Suresh] Raina and others, too, who have been doing big things which helps us believe we can win anywhere in any sort of conditions. Probably that was lacking earlier, but now everyone is confident. They are not worried about their places, people go out to play for the team rather than playing for themselves."
Apart from his bowling Harbhajan is now setting his sights on a Test century. He is eager to have a chat with Sachin Tendulkar, his captain in the IPL. Since January 2008 Harbhajan has scored four half-centuries, with each coming in a situation where the odds were against India. His 60 in the first innings in Wellington helped India avoid a mid-innings stutter. "One day I will get my hundred. I would like to spend time with Sachin, who has got so many centuries, and probably he can advise me to slow down or what I need to do to get from 60 to 100."
He even wants to bat higher up the order in the IPL so that he can "smack" the ball round the park. Harbhajan insists the Twenty20 format is "murder" for the bowler, a thought he expressed before the World Twenty20 in 2007 that India went on to win. "It is tough on bowlers. You need to be little more brave and smart and go with the flow. In this format you need to be smart rather than bowling magic balls."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo