Harbhajan Singh last played for India in an ODI in June 2011. His last T20I was in September 2012 © Getty Images
Harbhajan Singh is trying to chart out a path for a return to the Indian team. Nishad Pai Vaidya caught up with him on the sidelines of the Irani Cup last week.
It has been over two years since Harbhajan Singh lost his permanent spot in the Indian team. The veteran off-spinner has appeared in a few Tests and the ICC World T20 2012 since then, but is yet to regain his slot. Harbhajan still yearns to play for the country again and he affirmed that belief after playing for the Rest of India in the Irani Cup in Bangalore. With over 100 Tests and 400 wickets behind him, the off-spinner maintains that burning desire to don the national colours yet again.
I have had a long career. And, I am still playing and want to represent my country. That hunger is still there
The 2013-14 season has had mixed fortunes for Harbhajan. He started off brilliantly, but an injury hampered him after three matches. It came at a time when he was finding his rhythm, picking 18 wickets in the first three Ranji Trophy games for Punjab, but had to wait until the quarter-final against Jammu and Kashmir at Baroda to return. In the Irani Cup game, he did bowl well, but Karnataka were the dominant side in the match. So what does one do when things don’t go your way? “You just got to keep trying. As a bowler, if things aren’t going your way, you have to keep trying to do something. If wickets aren’t coming, you should try and contain the batsmen; not to give them easy runs — by bowling a lot of dot balls and try and create pressure that way on a good wicket. That is how it works,” Harbhajan said.
“Through my career, I have learnt from my seniors to bowl enough good balls and not to give easy runs. People should not score singles. If they are looking to hit you over the top, it is fine because they are taking the chance. That is what you want the batsman to do on a good wicket,” Harbhajan explained. Now, he is a senior, who has taken on a role to guide the youngsters. If he learnt some valuable tips from his seniors, it is now Harbhajan’s turn to pass it on to the younger generation.
If one looked at Harbhajan during the Irani Cup, one could see that he had donned the role of the senior well. He always had good, encouraging words for the younger members of his side. Captaincy is not new to him. He has captained Mumbai Indians in the past, even leading them to the Champions League T20 victory in 2011. In the Ranji Trophy, he has taken over the reins for Punjab. About his new role as a mentor, Harbhajan says, “It is not difficult to guide people and tell youngsters things about what we have done when we were their age. I was sharing my experiences with them and making sure that they are comfortable in the middle and whatever the field set they wanted to have.”
In the Irani Cup, he had youngsters like Baba Aparajith, Anureet Singh and Parvez Rasool to name a few. For Harbhajan, it isn’t only about passing on the wealth of his experience, but he believes he has a lot to learn from the younger lot as well. At the same time, he stressed on the importance of the mindset, “Mindset is important for any cricketer. I was just talking to a lot of the youngsters like Baba [Aparajith] and even our fast-bowler Anureet. They have done well in the domestic circuit. It is good to share your own experience with them and you [also] learn something from them — what they are doing, how they are preparing! And they learn something from the seniors. So, it is vice versa. Whatever job I have been given, I have tried to play the role accordingly.”
It is that desire which is keeping him going and there is a change for Harbhajan. He looks a lot fitter now and says it is one thing he can control. “Fitness is one thing which is in your hand. I worked really hard on my fitness. I want to get fit, look fit and do everything the youngsters can do. I have had a long career. And, I am still playing and want to represent my country. That hunger is still there. That is why I am training hard. So hopefully I will get there at some stage.”
It isn’t fitness alone, but Harbhajan also seems to be much calmer than what he was earlier. “Keeping yourself calm, it comes with age probably. When I was in my 20s, I was very aggressive. Now too I am aggressive, but not like that,” he concluded.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)