Harbhajan Singh set to play 100th Test
Harbhajan Singh has said he is a bit nervous but he will be all right before he steps out to play against Australia on Friday, which will make him the 10th Indian to have played 100 Tests. India don't usually divulge team news before the toss, but made an exception this time. It would not have needed such confirmation in the usual course, but Harbhajan has mostly been out of the side and has played only one Test in more than 18 months, and is making a comeback into the squad.
The landmark Test will come against Harbhajan's favourite opposition, Australia, and at a venue where 12 years ago he applied the finishing touches to one of the greatest turnarounds in Test history, finishing off as joint Man of the Series against Australia. Harbhajan has taken 408 wickets from 99 Tests at an average of 32.27 and a strike-rate of 68.1.
"It's a big game," Harbhajan said. "[The previous] 99 are gone. Obviously a bit nervous but I am sure I will be fine. I have faced these situations before.
"I have gone through times when I was not doing well or when I was doing well and got too excited. These things happen. Bit nervous to start with, but I will be fine. Once I get away with 100, we will see what needs to be done to play another 50-odd. Probably I will have to work even harder."
Harbhajan said he was aware of the gap between the last few Tests, but he said he wanted to look ahead and make sure there was no such gap between the upcoming appearances. He remembered when he made his debut as a 17-year-old, in Bangalore against Australia, as just a wide-eyed kid.
"Had no clue about what was going to happen," Harbhajan said. "To be honest I was a little kid on the park. I was starstruck at looking at players. 'Wow I am playing alongside [Sachin] Tendulkar, [Javagal] Srinath, Anil Kumble. These are all my heroes. I am playing today with them.' Of course I have come a long way. At that moment I never thought I would play for India this long a time."
Harbhajan thanked his seniors profusely. "God has been very kind," he said. "Big thanks to all my team-mates and great seniors like Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Srinath, Rahul Dravid, Laxman. They have been fantastic. I don't think I would have achieved this without their support, and would like to thank each and every one who supported me and stood by me. Just want to go out and enjoy this big match."
Harbhajan might have forgotten to mention the name of Sourav Ganguly on that list, but he came back to it and thanked him too. "I am just repeating names, but I couldn't have achieved this without their support."
Harbhajan said the seniors helped him learn to never give up. "Of course it's been a journey with a lot of ups and downs. No one can always be on the top. No one can always be down. You will have ups and downs. Not just as a cricket, but as a normal guy too.
"What I have learned from my seniors is to never give up. I have seen all these guys have done so well for India. And made themselves great cricketers, great ambassadors for the game. One thing in common was they never give up. That's what made this team successful. They showed us how to work hard. They made us believe we can win anywhere and from any situation. I am very proud I have played with these cricketers."
Harbhajan said growing as a person mattered as much as doing well as a cricket. "I have definitely grown up," he said. "I have made a few mistakes early in my career due to my extra aggression. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. Of course with time I have learned a lot and am looking forward to doing even better as a person. You might play this game for 15 years or so, but what sort of person you are matters the most. Everybody wants to be a better person than he was yesterday."
The last few years haven't been easy for Harbhajan. He has had to face a lot of criticism for his ineffectiveness of late, especially after Anil Kumble's retirement. He was asked how he deals with being possibly the most criticised man among those who have taken 400 Test wickets. The reply was belligerent.
"How do I handle? I just keep quiet," Harbhajan said. "Everybody has got their opinion. Unfortunately or fortunately, people have not played up to that level. Those kind of guys, if they say I am not good enough to play for India or if I have not done enough, it doesn't matter. Who cares? What matters is what my team thinks of me, what my team-mates think of me. End of the day those guys are going to be there for you. As I have said everybody has got their opinion. Even I have got my opinion for others, it doesn't mean I am always right."
Yet there was time, and the mood, for candour. Asked what he has been working on when outside the side, Harbhajan made a mockery of all mystery-ball announcements spinners make nowadays. "Small adjustments from point to point," he said. "I have not developed any mystery ball. Chautha, paanchva kuch nahi hai. Pehla hi agar theek ho jata hai toh usme hi wicket mil jayenge [There is no fourth one or fifth one - taking on from the doosra, which literally translates to the second one. If the first one comes out all right, it will be enough to get the wickets]