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November 4, 2008
A toe injury forced Harbhajan Singh out of the Delhi Test and denied him the opportunity of bowling in tandem with Anil Kumble for one last time, but the offspinner is now "100% fit" and ready to bear the responsibility of being India's premier slow bowler.
Winning the Border-Gavaskar Trophy is the biggest stake for India in Nagpur, but apart from the wider picture, there are other sub-plots - the most significant being Sourav Ganguly's final Test and VVS Laxman's 100th. And Harbhajan has his own milestone to look forward to. He's on the cusp of becoming only the third Indian bower to take 300 Test wickets, after finishing the Mohali Test on 299.
"I would have liked to get the 300th in Mohali [his home ground] but unfortunately I couldn't," Harbhajan said. "Hopefully I'll get it here in Nagpur. If I bowl well, hopefully, I'll end up with 500."
For the majority of those 299 wickets, Harbhajan had Kumble to back him up at the other end, giving away nothing. He's bowled with other spinners as well but Kumble's absence in those phases, unlike the one which is beginning, has been temporary.
"Obviously Anil bhai's retired and his will be very very big shoes to fill. To fill the gap left by a great player is very difficult. But we've got Amit Mishra and some other young bowlers. It's a good chance for them to get in the team. They are good enough. They have played lot of domestic cricket and done well. I'm sure in time they will perform for the country as well."
Mishra made his debut in Mohali and picked up a five-for but had a poor game in Delhi, where he took only one wicket. Harbhajan also said that despite the emotion-laden circumstances under which the fourth Test would be played, India would not be content with protecting their 1-0 lead.
"It's very simple to be focused. You just have to focus on cricket. That's it. If people are retiring that's their decision. We're 1-0 up and want to finish the series 2-0. Hopefully Sourav will have a very good match here and gets lots of runs. It'll be great for the team and great for him."
Ganguly was one of two players - Zaheer being the other - who didn't practice at the old Vidharba Cricket Association on Tuesday because practice facilities aren't complete at the new Test venue. "Zaheer did a lot of bowling in the last three Tests and Sourav is feeling fatigued with the traveling," Harbhajan said. "They are both fit but are taking it easy today."
The practice sessions on Wednesday - the eve of the match - are also scheduled at the old stadium, which means the new one, situated on the outskirts of the city, will be new territory for both teams when the Test begins. Harbhajan hasn't even been there yet but didn't think it was an issue at all.
"We aren't worried too much about how the wicket will play, how it won't play, what will happen, what won't happen," he said. "We're looking forward to playing some good cricket and finishing the series 2-0."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.