Bhajji gets nostalgic ahead of 100th Test
The media personnel sat in the press conference room at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai in anticipation of a regular pre-series interaction with India’s captain MS Dhoni. However, the door opened and in walked Harbhajan Singh, evoking instant applause from the occupants of the room. Even before the media manager announced, they all knew why Bhajji was there.
The formal announcement was made that the feisty off-spinner will take the Chepauk field on February 22 to play his 100th Test match. There was a second round of applause, leaving Harbhajan overwhelmed.
“This is the first time that I have been applauded in a press conference and I thank you all for that,” he said. What followed was a streak of questions about his 15-year journey in India whites – the good, bad and great moments, the men who inspired him and how the game helped him grow as a human being.
Harbhajan sat patiently, answering every question with a smile, admitting that he was “A bit nervous” and that it’s a wonderful coincidence that his first and 100th Tests came against his favourite opposition – Australia.
“Once I get away with the 100th, I’ll think what needs to be done to play 50 more,” Bhajji said while stating his intentions about his future.
Here are the excerpts from his interaction with the media:
The elite club
When he takes field tomorrow, Harbhajan will become only the 10th Indian cricketer to play 100 Tests. He will join the august company of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble, Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag.
“It’s nice to see your name alongside the greats of Indian cricket. I remember playing my first Test under Mohammad Azharuddin’s captaincy against Australia in Bangalore when I was only 17 years old. I had no clue what had happened. I was this little kid on the park, star-struck by all the senior players. I told myself, ‘Wow, I’m playing alongside all my heroes.’ It was a great moment, and at that time I never thought that I’ll play 100 Tests.”
The men who mattered
Harbhajan took the opportunity to thank his senior colleagues and role models for playing a crucial part in moulding his career.
“I want to say a big thank you to my seniors like Tendulkar, Kumble, Srinath, Laxman, Ganguly, who have been fantastic throughout my career. I don’t think I would have achieved this feat without their support. It’s been a journey with lots of ups and downs. One thing I’ve learnt from my seniors is to never give up. I’ve seen these guys evolve themselves as great ambassadors of cricket and one thing that was common to all was that they never gave up.”
Here’s to Jumbo!
Harbhajan has, time and again, reiterated the role of Anil Kumble in his career. On his big day, the Turbanator remembered the motivation he drew from his guru during his early days.
“It was great to have Anil Kumble on the other end. One thing I cherish about him is that he was one guy who would keep fighting. When I saw him bowl his 30th over, he bowled it with the same intensity he’d bowled his first. I used to think, ‘Why can’t I do that?’ That is what has pushed me all this while. Initially, it was a bit difficult without him, but the new guys have come and done really well.”
The memorable moments
No points for guessing here, Bhajji’s best in Tests was also India’s best.
“Of course, the first one would be the 2001 Test series against Australia. The second moment was when we became the No.1 Test team in the world.”
Growing up with the game
Known for his in-your-face attitude that has rubbed many an opponent the wrong way, Bhajji says his age as been his biggest teacher.
“I was 17 then and I’m 32 now. I have made some mistakes in my career because of my extra aggression. Sometimes it works and at others it doesn’t. I have learned from my mistakes and hopefully I’ll keep doing that to become a better person each day.”
There’s no cricketer who, even after picking 400-plus Test wickets, as copped as much criticism as Harbhajan has in the last couple of years. But not one to mince his words, Bhajji doesn’t rate outsiders’ opinions too highly.
“I don’t care when people who don’t know what it is like to play at this level say that I’m not good enough to play for India. What matters to me is what my teammates think of me. Everyone has got the right to voice their opinion. I too might say what I think about others, but it doesn’t mean that I’m always right. You’ve got to live with it.”
We’ll beat ‘em 4-0
Ahead of this series, Harbhajan had predicted a clean-sweep for India over the visiting Australians. And he stands by it.
“I always like to believe that if we stick to our game and play well it’s very hard to beat us in India. We lost the last series against England because we didn’t play to our potential. But this is an opportunity to show what we are. Why I said we’ll beat Australia 4-0? Well, why not? If you don’t believe in yourself, who will believe in you?”
Beware of the underdogs
Harbhajan has played against much tougher Australian teams than the one he’s about to take on. But he knows the nature of the old enemy.
“In their earlier teams, all the players from the top to the bottom of their line-up were match-winners. This is a new team and most of them have hardly played in India. Most of them have played in the IPL, but not in the longer formats. But we know that irrespective of what team they bring, the Australians always come hard at you.”