April 19, 2001

Turbanator speaketh, beware the world!

Notwithstanding his sensational success against the Australians, Harbhajan Singh remains a modest young man, but he is clear about his goals - 300 wickets in Tests and even more in one-day internationals.

Only weeks ago, he devastated the mighty Australians with 32 wickets from three Tests and won widespread acclaim even in Australia where he was nicknamed 'Turbanator', a reference to his turban and the killer instinct with which he terminated the Aussie batsmen's innings.

The 21-year-old middle class boy from Jalandhar is basking in his new found glory after all the problems he had two years back with his bowling action. He is now recognised on the streets, people shake his hands and ask for his autograph. "It is all God's grace", says the spinner humbly.

But has not the sudden success made him heady? "Definitely not. If God has given me success, he will give me the strength to cope with it," he told PTI in an interview. Harbhajan's sights are set high. "The immediate target is to win an away series. In the long run I would like to take 300 Test wickets and even more in onedayers," he says.

He needs 247 wickets to reach his Test target and at least 278 for what he wants to achieve in one-day internationals. He certainly oozes with confidence!

He knows he has to work hard to fulfil this ambition. He took a week's break after the Australian series and is now putting in nearly seven hours a day to improve his physical fitness and bowling skills.

Is he now working on any special delivery? "Yes, I am trying to develop a ball which would land with a slower speed. The batsman is on the crease for a long time and has judged the bowlers well. The attempt would be to subtly alter the speed and the length and surprise him. I am working hard on this," reveals the bowler.

Then he discloses an interesting nugget - it was the master batsman Sachin Tendulkar who taught him the art of moving a relatively new ball away from the right-hand batsman, almost like an outswinger without changing the action.

Tendulkar, a useful bowler in his own right with both off and leg spin, had taught him this delivery at the nets, says Harbhajan, adding, "at first it was difficult but now I am able to deliver this ball".

And what about batting? Has the master-blaster given him tips on batting as well? "I have started to take batting seriously now and am working hard on it. I had been successful with the bat in Ranji and Duleep Trophies. Also, I know India needs more all-rounders in its squad and the way I am trying I think I will become an all-rounder soon," says Harbhajan, who scored the two precious runs which gave India the Test series and followed it up with 46 runs in the Visakhapatnam one-dayer.

Bowling of course is the priority for Harbhajan as he sits glued to the TV set to observe world class spinners, especially his idols Saqlain Mushtaq and Muthiah Muralitharan bowl whenever there is a match being telecast.

However, Harbhajan refuses to get overawed by either. "They are very experienced and owe their success entirely to their depth of experience. Even I bowl the same kind of deliveries as them and I have taken wickets with those balls both in Tests as well as one-dayers."

If he does not shower praise on others too easily, he is also very self-critical. He closely watches the video recordings of his own bowling a number of times to pick out the mistakes and then tries to rectify those.

Learning from mistakes has been a part of growing up for this youngster who admits being short tempered as a child. "As a child I threw tantrums at the slightest pretext - not being able to eat golgappas or buy a balloon from the street pedlar would be reasons enough for me to get angry. I used to crib for every little thing and if my wish was not fulfilled, I would get wild."

Harbhajan now has matured a lot, especially he says, after his father's death. "After my daddy passed away, I realised I had to shoulder enormous responsibilities. Now I hardly get angry at all."

Not even when a batsman hits him for a six? "Not angry exactly. But yes I am greatly agitated. I resolve to get rid of the batsman as soon as possible." Harbhajan's aggression paid off certainly during the recent Australian series, having managed to trouble almost the entire Aussie batting line-up, except as he says Matthew Hayden.

"I found Hayden a tough nut to crack because his reach at the crease is immense. He reaches the balls going outside the off stump and even drives them with ease. He was in great form. Besides Hayden, it was my heartiest wish to bowl Steve Waugh out."

To have overcome a bad patch and get selected in the playing eleven against Australia in Mumbai for the first Test was something he could not have asked more for.

"It was the turning point of my career. This series was definitely the big one for me. I knew I had to perform to my potential in this series and prove myself."

He put aside his initial euphoria at being selected and tried to stick his best foot forward during the Chennai camp. "As I worked hard, I got support from captain Saurav Ganguly, coach John Wright, Anil (Kumble) bhai and Sachin. Their support helped me grow in confidence which was there for everyone to see."

What he missed greatly among the applause and the feat of a hattrick, taken during the second Test at Kolkata, was the presence of his father. "I succeeded in realising his cherished dream - it hurts that he was not there to see all this for himself".

But the consolation was he had his mother and siblings - five of them - all girls, to share his joy with. If someone was not happy with his success, it could be Adam Gilchrist - the man who owed his ouster so many times to the lanky bowler during the entire series.

Harbhajan, however, ruled out this possibility, saying "Gilchrist came to me after one match and appreciated my efforts. Shane Warne, Steve Waugh.... they all commended my performance."

What about all those reports in the media of sledging and heated exchange of words on the field? "I cared the least about anything other than the game going on the field. I did not bother myself at all with petty matters. I remained lost in my own world."

So while the rest were busy fighting a mental warfare, Harbhajan was at peace with himself as he improvised his bowling technique and conjured tricks to send the batsmen packing.

In the process, he shut up the big-mouthed Australian media who had scoffed this bowler off as a laundry boy when he was on a tour of that country in 1999.

A case of mixed-up facts or mistaken identities? Harbhajan never bothered to ask them and rightly so as he gave them a dose of their own medicine by tearing apart the 'invincibles'.

Success may have gone to the heads of other players but definitely not to Harbhajan's. "I am the same simple middle class boy from Jalandhar. Nothing has changed in me, basically because I have gone through some bad patches in life - I know life is a great leveller. I have just made a beginning...I have a long way to go," says Harbhajan in his characteristic unassuming style.

Not many know that Harbhajan takes a keen interest in his ancestral business - a factory which churns out ball-bearings and valves. "My daddy looked after the factory with great passion. So I make it a point to devote some time at least to it. The factory is a constant reminder of my father," says Harbhajan while trying unsuccessfully to hide his emotions.

It has been one long journey for the only son of the family as he graduated from playing cricket on rough terraces to the silken grass of Eden Gardens.

"There are tasks to be accomplished on the home front as well. I have to marry off my two sisters as three are already married. It's a big responsibility."

It certainly is for a boy who has just entered his twenties and with so much else to be worried about - like keeping up to the expectations of more than a billion people everytime he sets foot on a playing ground.

Ask him about his own marriage and he shrugs off the topic shyly but not before he adds mischievously, "I am already married to cricket"!