'I have a lot of cricket left in me' - Harbhajan
Harbhajan Singh, who took his 400th Test wicket on Thursday, believes he has age on his side and will strive to achieve something really special in Test cricket. He said that he contemplated quitting cricket after the death of his father in 2000, but is happy now that he has made his family and country proud by becoming only the fourth spinner behind Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble to reach the milestone.
"I am happy and honoured to be a part of those greats who have done well for themselves and their respective countries," Harbhajan said. "I am 31 and still have lot of cricket left in me. I have to make sure that I stay fit and achieve something special. It's up to me how badly I want to achieve those things."
Over the years, Harbhajan has gone through some rough times, with his action has been questioned and the controversy involving Andrew Symonds in Australia, but he said the loss of his father was the worst phase of his career.
"There have been quite few bad phases. I have faced lots of ups and downs, mostly downs in my career. Very hardly have I seen ups. I lost my dad which was my worst time, I didn't want to play cricket after that. Somehow, my family convinced me to fulfill dad's dream. Wherever he is sitting today he must be proud that his son has achieved something special today."
Needing seven wickets to get to 400 at the start of this Test series, he said the wait was excruciating. "Obviously, before I came here, I knew that I had 393 wickets. It was at the back of my mind irrespective of whether I wanted to think about it or not. I have worked hard for all these wickets. These last seven wickets made me work harder than ever before. It's over now. It's done. Hopefully, the next 200 will be easier.
"Taking 400 wickets is something special. Not many have done it. I am happy with what God has given me. I have enjoyed my journey and I would like to thank all my team-mates since 1998." He proceeded to name a range of cricketers including Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, MS Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Narendra Hirwani, who, he said, was a great motivator.
He talked about some of his memorable dismissals and the best batsmen he has bowled at. "There have been quite few dismissals. My first wicket was Greg Blewett; I bowled him. Then I got Michael Hussey in Bangalore, it was a doosra and he left it from outside off and it came in a long way. Even I was surprised, I have only seen Muttiah Muralitharan bowl that kind of delivery. I have enjoyed the challenge of bowling to great batsmen like [Ricky] Ponting - though I have taken his wicket many times he remains a great batsman - [Matthew] Hayden, Brian Lara, Steve Waugh."
Harbhajan also mentioned how Tendulkar had helped him with his bowling. "Whenever I bowl to him in the nets, I ask him what is happening and what I should be looking to do on wickets like these. Wherever we are touring, whether it is in Australia or New Zealand, I take his advice. He showed me how to bowl the slider. It is very useful in ODIs, as well as Test cricket. I've got a couple of wickets with that ball. You hold the ball like an off-spinner, but you release it with one finger, so it just goes like an out-swinger. But it can happen only with the new ball, so for that I have to come on early and bowl with a newish ball."
He also spoke about some of the best close-in fielders with whom he has worked. "Shiv Sunder Das was really special for India. He took some brilliant catches in that series against Australia. And I can't forget my dear friend from Tamil Nadu, Sadagoppan Ramesh. He generally liked to sleep a lot, but that day he was awake and took that blinder ... his catch to dismiss Shane Warne was brilliant. I still have to give him a treat for that. I promised him that some day I will take him out for dinner for taking that catch. And on a serious note, Das was brilliant, Aakash Chopra was also outstanding. Pujara was also very good in South Africa. There have been a lot of guys, but these three will definitely stand out. Rahul Dravid is obviously special in the slips. He has taken more than 50 catches off my bowling and I hope that he picks up another 50 in the future."
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo