Everyone was up for the fight - Harbhajan
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
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."