I backed myself throughout: Harmeet
Mumbai, Aug 30: It’s been two days since the ICC Under-19 World Cup winners returned to India. But as I went to meet Harmeet Singh in his locality in Mumbai, I got the feeling that the world champions have just arrived. Congratulatory posters line the streets and the celebrations and felicitations are still on at various clubs and grounds that he played at. He has been sought after and wished by local politicians and his cricket buddies with equal enthusiasm.
Is he tired? Yes; but only physically. The left-arm spinner said that despite the long flights, the king’s welcome that they got at the airport refreshed him and his weariness vanished. “We were not expecting such a big crowd and we did not know that we were being anxiously followed by so many back home,” Harmeet said while echoing the sentiments of some of his teammates.
Talking about the magnificent victory he said, “’The way you think, strongly determines the way how you play on the ground,’ was a really encouraging line told by our coaches to us. We were strongly thinking that we were going to win and we did it,”
While speaking about the efforts of those who guided India U19 to victory, he said, “Our coaches told us a few things and they gave us a sheet on which some things were written, something that we used to read before every game. It was about communication, it was about how to show your aggression on the ground, controlled aggression and it was about self-belief.”
The left-arm spinner also recalled the hard yards put in to reach the summit while speaking to bcci.tv in the calm surroundings of the lush green ground where he sometimes plies his trade.
How did you prepare for the tournament?
In the last tour to Australia, I really bowled well. Though I didn’t get that many wickets, the way I bowled, I knew I had bowled well. It was the same in this tournament also. I took six wickets; they were crucial wickets. The way I felt about my bowling while going there was really not that great but I knew that once I go there, seeing that the conditions will help me because I had enjoyed bowling there. I enjoyed the bounce over there and enjoyed whatever spin I was getting at the Tony Ireland Stadium, when I went there the last time; and that’s what encouraged me.
When we went, there was a game against Sri Lanka. I didn’t play that because I had fever. But the next day, I played because the coach told us to just go bowl and when I came back, I felt better. Afghanistan were playing really well against us, they were chasing 260-270 runs. The wicket was really flat and they were 120 for one. And then, I came in to bowl and took five wickets and gave 26 runs. That gave me the confidence that I can do this over here. My mindset was to keep things simple and to let myself go and wherever I feel pressure I have to fight it and not be afraid of it.
Did you feel any added pressure being one of the senior members of the team?
We were not talking about pressure in the dressing room, but there were goose bumps. In each game when we went out there, there was that nervous energy. But we knew that we have done it [and] it is just a matter of time [before we can turn things our way]. When I went out there to bowl, I gave myself a cushion of one over. I told myself that you can go for runs in the first over. In the game against West Indies, I gave 10-11 runs, then against Pakistan I went for eight runs in the first over. So, I gave myself a cushion and I ended up bowling well after that. Against WI, I gave away 34-35 runs and against Pakistan I gave 20 runs. I backed myself throughout. I didn’t lose confidence at any stage. Whatever and whenever my team needed, I was up for it and I always felt that I can do this.
Your ability to flight the ball without fear and come back even after going for runs was appreciated by experts. How did you work on that?
In between the last season, I was struggling, but I realised that I was taking wickets with flight only. So, I just went through my previous videos and how I had taken wickets. I studied myself and I worked a lot at NCA during the camps that we had there for two-three months. The coaches backed me. In between I had a shoulder injury also and that had stopped me from doing [what I do]. But then, I overcame it and then I started doing well again and felt good about myself. I knew that people will talk about me that I am not doing that great and all that. But personally, I knew that if I can go out there and bowl myself, I can do the best. I knew what I had done in the past. You have the self-belief only if you have done well in the past; it doesn’t just come like that. I believed in myself and I knew that I don’t want to regret anything after going back [home] because this is the moment of my life. I don’t want regret anything after going back; I have been living to live this moment. I have dreamt of playing for India and all that. So, why go out there and be afraid? That’s how I made it simple for me and just went out there and enjoyed myself.
Who has worked with you and guided you?
Our chief coach [Bharat] Arun sir [guided me]. He didn’t force me to make any technical changes to my bowling but he knew that I can do well and he knew my ability after the Australia tour. So he told me, “It’s just in your mind, it’s not about the skill. The skill is always there in you; it’s about your mind to get it right.” That is what I focussed on. Then, as I bowled in Australia this time, I recalled the things about the time when I was bowling well in Australia the last time [and] so, the mindset changed. The first five-wicket haul over there gave me the boost to just go out there and just play myself.
Your last-wicket partnership with Sandeep Sharma in the quarter-finals against arch rivals Pakistan helped India win the match. What went on in the middle?
I was there in the last World Cup and but hadn’t played that game [against Pakistan] and neither did I play the last two times we played them in Asia Cup [India lost the first match by one run and the final was a tie]. Watching from outside, when we lost those two games and tied one, was a horrible feeling for me. I couldn’t go out there and do anything for the team and was feeling helpless. So, when I got the opportunity to prove my worth, I just told myself that I don’t want to regret anything, I will back myself throughout. If there is a ball to hit, I will hit it; but down the ground and not in the air. That’s what I did.
When I went in to bat Smit [Patel] was there and then, when he got out, I had to take charge. Then [Kamal] Passi came in. Two overs of the fast bowler, Azizullah, were left. So, I thought Passi can play. We will just rotate the strike and finish the game when the spinners come on to bowl because they were not that great. Then, when Passi got out, Ravikant came in and got out in the same over and then there was still one over from Azizullah to be played. So, firstly I made sure that I am on strike. I knew Sandy [Sandeep Sharma] can defend, so I just told him to keep the bat ahead of the pad, way ahead because there was no silly point or slip, so there was no chance of getting caught close [in the field]. It was just a matter of patience. He kept his calm and we just decided that he has to defend and I have to score. After playing 15-20 balls, he also got a full toss and he also banged one down the ground. He got a couple of runs. It was real pressure, but we enjoyed throughout. And we lived that occasion. We had decided that we won’t let the pressure get to us.
How did the interaction with players like Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and Rahul Dravid help?
They are really strong in the mind. Cricket at the higher level is all about how you control the mind. That was the common point in what Rahul Paaji, Sachin Paaji and Yuvi Bhai said to us. They were talking about how to control your mind and how to deal with pressure and get over it and all that. Sachin Paaji told us, “When you are under pressure on the field, then if the boys are together [and back each other] then you won’t feel the pressure. But if you are standing somewhere alone and no one is talking to you, then you will feel the pressure inside.” He told us to keep talking to each other and keep encouraging each other. Enjoy yourself on the field then you will feel good, enjoy that moment and live the moment.
That changed my mindset as well. I used to go out there and talk to the bowler if he is being hit or something, and just calm his nerves down and make him feel better and go out there and do better. There was always backing on the field.
How did it feel to know that the seniors were following your game?
We have seen them on TV and we always wished to play with them, but comments coming from them were amazing. Now, they also know us, so it’s the best feeling; it can’t be better. All people in India die to meet them and see them. But now they are talking about us, so it was an out of the world feeling for us. We are really grateful to them and it is a really encouraging thing for us.
Who do you look up to?
I specially admire Sachin Paaji and Rahul Dravid because those two are disciplined with their games and nothing is above the game for them and that’s what makes me look up to them. The way they played their cricket and the way they manage things around them, the way they don’t let anything make them overconfident and all such things [are some things that I look up to]. Playing that long is not easy.