Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @sreshthx
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After playing his first game of cricket in 699 days, Harbhajan Singh said that his debut match for Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL 2021 almost "felt like his first game for India." He bowled only one over in the opening contest against Sunrisers Hyderabad, and Harbhajan believes match-ups dictated that strategy, expecting longer spells in upcoming games.
"Well, it did feel like I was playing my first game [for India] only," Harbhajan said. "It was sort of, you know, getting back to the ground was so much fun. This has been my life. Being there and celebrating with my teammates was a great outing."
Harbhajan took the new ball in the Knight Riders' defence of 187 on Sunday, likely because left-hander David Warner was opening and his off-breaks would take the ball away from him. Harbhajan nearly dismissed Warner after he sliced a cut, but the ball fell short of point.
While Harbhajan acknowledged match-ups were important, he said that skills should still overrule all else. A good bowler, according to Harbhajan, will dismiss any batsman irrespective of the theories that float around in today's age of analysis in T20 cricket.
"I am the kind of player who wants to do what the team requires, even if it means less opportunity. Like I bowled just one over yesterday. But the IPL is a long tournament, and I know I will have to do more work on a night, like deliver four overs.
"I expect to bowl to right-handers too, although these days tradition is that offspinners don't bowl to right-handers and left-arm spinners don't bowl to left-handers. The sport of cricket has remained the same, just the thought process has gotten complicated."
'Yoga new secret to staying fit at 40'
When asked how long Harbhajan expects to play cricket, he said he is not playing cricket to "prove anything to others", but because he is enjoying playing. He said he would play as long as he was fit to compete against those in the IPL.
"Without cricket my life is empty," Harbhajan said. "I will judge my fitness every year, but the main effort will be to remain fit. When I think I don't match my own expectations, I will say goodbye to cricket. That will definitely be a sad day for me."
As for the secret behind his fitness at 40, Harbhajan said: "I've been very strict on my diet because your body is what you eat, and not what you do in the gym. Basically, I've worked on my diet. Apart from that, I've spent considerable time in the nets to cover my basics and bowl a lot. But fitness is very important.
"We people don't give credit to yoga, but yoga is something which is unbelievably good. If you get into the routine of doing yoga, it can actually make you look very young. It can open up your muscles. You cannot imagine how far you can stretch your muscles. Yoga is the way forward for me even if I play cricket or not. It's something I will continue to do for the rest of my life."
Harbhajan keeps faith in Kuldeep
Although Kuldeep Yadav has not been a regular member of the Knight Riders (and India) XI since last season, Harbhajan felt the left-arm wristspinner wasn't doing anything wrong from a bowling perspective. Harbhajan said that great bowlers have had poor periods despite the best efforts, and that's what was happening with Kuldeep.
"First, I want to say that Kuldeep is a big-match winner," Harbhajan said. "When he was playing for India, nobody told him how to bowl. The qualities he had before, he still has them, and in fact he has gotten better. Sometimes players go through a phase when the best results are not coming, but their efforts remain the same.
"Knowing Kuldeep, whatever I have seen him, I know he is a hard worker, and he will come back strong. This has happened with the greatest of bowlers that you're bowling good spells but not getting wickets. It's part and parcel of the game, and I don't see anything wrong with Kuldeep's bowling. I know he will come good for KKR and later on for India as well."