India v South Africa, 2nd Test, Kolkata, 5th day February 18, 2010

Everyone was up for the fight - Harbhajan

S Aga

Discretion has never been a quality associated with Harbhajan Singh and, after the euphoria of helping India to a series-levelling innings win came the outpouring of anger. Having sprinted more than halfway to the boundary to make his point to the media gallery, he didn't mince words at the press conference that followed.

"I have been hearing a lot of things from them [the media], but today they were on the receiving end," he said in response to an unrelated question. "They should be getting that kind of treatment because they should know what to play on national television and what not to play. We play for our country with a lot of passion and it disappoints all the players sometimes to see what characters they make out of us. If I don't do well on the ground they will show us as 3 Idiots (a Bollywood flick). Harbhajan is one of the idiots, MS Dhoni is the other. That is not right. I know it sounds funny but it is not.

"It's a shame and it should not be done. But if that is the way you want to sell your programmes, we are not worried about that. I was there for a bigger purpose. I was playing for my country, which means more than anything else for me. I won a game for my country and that is a special feeling."

The last 12 months have presented Harbhajan with a new challenge. Anil Kumble is no longer around to wheel away metronomically at the other end and, with neither Amit Mishra nor Pragyan Ojha established as India's second slow bowler, the onus has been on Harbhajan to deliver. Against South Africa at Eden Gardens on Thursday, that responsibility was increased by the thigh strain that prevented Zaheer Khan from even taking the field.

"Zaheer was definitely missed in the second innings," said Harbhajan. "I think all three bowlers and Sehwag also, the fourth bowler, we have taken the pressure, we have taken the responsibility. We knew that we were one guy short and we had to do it with whatever resources we had.

"I think Zaheer has been fantastic in the last three or four series. We have got the unit, we have got young bowlers, talented bowlers and we need to help them. As for myself, I need to work hard in the nets and keep on getting better and fitter so I can perform well in the future."

There was praise too for Mishra, whose every step is dogged by the shadow of Kumble. "Those are big shoes to fill," he said. "Anil bhai was fantastic from the other end and Mishra is still very new and young in international cricket. He is learning everyday but he bowled well in the second innings and even in the first innings. He is improving with every game and I am sure he will play for India for a long time."

As for him, the love affair with Eden Gardens remains a passionate one. "Every player has his own special ground. Anil bhai always enjoyed bowling in Delhi and I always enjoyed bowling at the Eden Gardens because I have always done well here.

"The crowd was fantastic. Eden has always been special. I have not heard this kind of noise anywhere in India. In Test matches, we don't even get crowds but Eden is probably the best ground as you get the crowds for the whole five days. It does not matter whether India is batting or bowling, so it's fantastic."

I wish we had won the toss in Nagpur. Things might have been different. We played better cricket here and we set our fields, bowled according to the fields and we created pressure. We have learnt that if we fight till the end, we will do special things

Despite widespread criticism of his performance in Nagpur, Harbhajan insisted he had changed very little for this match. "The whole game I have been just been very relaxed and I knew that if I bowled in the right areas then I would create the opportunities to get batsmen out. I was very focused and I knew what I was doing. I knew my plans and we got it right. I wanted to pitch the ball up and I wanted to get him [Morkel] leg before wicket or bat-pad at silly point or in the slips, so there were a lot of options. That is what I was trying to do by keeping things simple."

Having snatched victory at the last, there was appreciation too for Hashim Amla's lionhearted display. "Obviously Amla batted very well," he said. "Most of the teams when they come here, they don't know much about the spin, whether it is turning, bouncing or keeping low from the wicket. But he was very calm throughout his batting and that was probably the key. He kept on playing his style of cricket, he never took any chances, he never looked to do something fancy, he just played cricketing shots. I think he was the best batsman in the South African batting line-up."

In the build-up to this game, media reports referred to Harbhajan seeking advice from Kumble, but having bowled through the pain barrier - "I was in a lot of pain today. My shin was hurting but I tried to bowl the way I can do" - he scotched such speculation. "Anil Kumble will probably always be the one who will call me and tell me that there is nothing wrong with you. It's just that you guys [media] have been creating sensational stories and calling Kumble to ask what is wrong with Harbhajan.

"He just told me to be the way you are and you will bowl well. 'You have taken 300-plus wickets and it doesn't come through fluke. You know what you can do and I have played so much with you. You just have to be confident and it is just a matter of time before you will get the wickets'. He was pretty much right. I would like to give him big thanks for the advice and even on the field settings for batsmen like Jacques Kallis."

In Harbhajan's eyes, the drawn series was a fair reflection of nine days that saw some exceptional cricket played. "To be honest, South Africa are a really good side and they played fantastic cricket in Nagpur. I wish we had won the toss in Nagpur. Things might have been different. We played better cricket here and we set our fields, bowled according to the fields and we created pressure. We batted well - Laxman was special, Dhoni was brilliant, Sachin was amazing and so was Viru. I think overall we played terrific cricket and we are very happy.

"We have learnt that if we fight till the end, we will do special things. Everyone was up for the fight and we knew that it was an important game for all of us. There has been a lot of talk about us that it was a fluke to be the number-one side and all that. It was not a fluke at all. We have worked really hard to reach the top and today we have shown the world that we deserve to be number one. I hope now you guys will put some positive stories about it."

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ragav999 on February 20, 2010, 15:29 GMT

    harbhajan is a useless bowler in tests against Asian teams in test cricket. Some of die hard Indian fans are quick to point that SA are very poor against spin and playing spin on a turning track must also be considered as equal a challenge as facing fast bowling. His average in tests against Pakistan, Srilanka are 52 & 34. All those Bhajji fans out there should judge his ability/cailbre after looking at his stats against good batting sides of spin. Don't understand why he is talking now and emphasising that India deserve to be No.1 after a drawn series at home. India has been No.1 for atleast few weeks since test series against SL. He said nothing then. Now he is replying to unrelated questions. What a joke! He is similar to his friend zaheer who talked trash to media when Brett Lee said that Aus will win 7-0 in India last October in Odi's.

  • Bollo on February 20, 2010, 10:17 GMT

    apologies, those figures were from 1996-2001

  • Bollo on February 20, 2010, 10:04 GMT

    Vilander, the whitewashes I was referring to were the last home/away series between Australia and Sri Lanka.

    jimmy_s, you`re right, I`m no fan of the BCCI, but have no problem at all with India, its cricket team or players (apart from harbajhan lol), and no problem with India being No 1. I do have a problem with the current ranking system, and the claims some are making about India`s undisputed status as no 1. I repeat my assertion that no Australian team,fan, or journalist would be making this claim with the current away record of this Indian team.

    Not sure I understand your point in your last post about the rankings system? In what way did it disadvantage India? The reason India were ranked so low in 2001 was that over the previous 4 years they`d won 14 of 54 tests, and excluding Bang/Zim won 1 out of 24 tests away.

  • jimmy_s on February 19, 2010, 21:04 GMT

    @Bollo, ppl like you would always going to complain about the rankings unless your fav team is on the top... i know its difficult to accept it but its true. The rankings are same for every one..btw they introduced the new ranking system because of the disparity of test matches being played by all the teams.Let me break it down for you for eg. England & AUS were playing 5 tests at home & away against teams like SA,WI but at the same time teams like ENG, AUS, SA,IND etc. were hosting 2 or 3 test matches against teams like Srilanka etc. . Now do you think it was right... there was a flaw in the ranking, but we Indians never said a single word about the ranking . In 2001 we were ranked 7th & it took us 8 years to become #1.So I request you to respect the #1 team & stop giving stupid reasons.That's all i have to say. Cheers

  • jimmy_s on February 19, 2010, 20:31 GMT

    @Bollo, man you have got some serious problem with India, its cricket board and India being #1... come on man if you don't like some one or some thing doesn't mean you close your eyes &refuse to see the reality.All's said and done... lets take up some points you raised although i am sure you wouldn't agree with me.

    Firstly, like you i don't BCCI...but that doesn't mean they are all bad.They have done some good things as well, they had the vision to create IPL & CL and now every cricket board (except eng) is earning money including the players thanks to BCCI (but we still hate BCCI right). It was BCCI who helped Srilankan board which was bankrupt at that time to build stadium after Tsunami (but we still hate BCCI right)... when no other cricket board came to help. It is always the BCCI who get criticized... they are not perfect but then no one is. Other Boards sits there do nothing like the ICC... they are all useless.But we still hate BCCI right.

  • Vilander on February 19, 2010, 20:15 GMT

    @bolo, dont you watch test cricket what wrong you man ?. 2-0 in favor of india against aus does not look like a white wash of india to me. And yeah SA as very good but india was without dravid and lax,yuvraj all first choice - raina,rohit second choice--and went with saha for gods sake. The point is are india good enough to draw in SA thats to be seen to say if ind are as good as SA.

  • kksac on February 19, 2010, 13:45 GMT

    i think it should have been at least a 3 test series and have a decider..south africa always play well against india in home or away home. instead of the useless triangular series in bangladesh we should have had a complete test series with south africa proably a 5 match test series

  • dummy4fb on February 19, 2010, 13:03 GMT

    @TheDr394 True that literal meaning of Idiot would describe the Indian media. However, in the context the article used Idiot, Idiot meant something else. 3 Idiots is the biggest hit in the Hindi Film Industry, and idiot is used as sarcastic, since the protagonist was so smart that everyone called him an idiot. Just to clarify that the article doesn't call them idiots literally.

  • Cricconnoisseur on February 19, 2010, 12:38 GMT

    Great atmosphere for a famous Indian victory! Well played SA! India are a well deserved # 1 now irrespective of what the naysayers have got to say. But I was completely expecting this performance and post match antics from Bhajji. He has a tendency to play well when his place is questioned, or when he has the buffer of a huge score. In most other scenarios he has been average, and Cricinfo ran an excellent stats study on that: The ups and downs of Harbhajan Singh Whille the media will always come with silly stories, deep down he has to understand that he has to be much more consistent to take over from the legend called Kumble, as India's lead spinner. While poor pitches are partially to blame, defensive T20 like bowling, and a lack of variations and flight have made him less of a threat than in the past. It's his initiative to improve rather than hitting back at the media.

  • celticfrost on February 19, 2010, 10:19 GMT

    Why only playing fast bowling is well is considered as "holy grail" for any batsman's ability. Everybody plays on their strength. And the wicket at eden was not a square turner.SA batsmen just have a very poor record against good spin bowling and they were exposed again. Thanks to our stupendous batting line up for giving the impetus to our bowlers to go for the kill.

    I completely denounce the logic of some people commenting here about India not a deserving #1 test squad. Well! get a life, and think why the team u support have performed poorly enough not to get there.It is not rocket science and even if you have a brain which is the size of a chicken's, soon you will figure out that over past couple of years India has been doing consistently better than other teams. JAI HIND!!

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