Thanks to a crazy schedule that means there is no off-season for cricketers, Harbhajan Singh can't sit at home and reflect on his Man-of-the-Series winning performance against South Africa. Given a choice, he would have loved to savour it away from everything, especially after going through a lot of unpleasant incidents in Australia.
Luckily for him, the early finish in Kanpur has given him a few extra days of rest before the Indian Premier League explodes into existence. Relaxing at home in Jalandhar, Harby — as the Australian media calls him — spoke to HT on
What did you tell yourself when Anil Kumble was ruled out of a Test India had to win?
I don't think too much about anything before a game, so I was just trying to be relaxed. But I did feel there was additional responsibility on me since Kumble wasn't around to share it with me. Being a senior bowler I had to give it my best shot. We had to win and I told myself that at the end of the day, I must be able to look in the mirror and say that I had given it my best.
You have played against all teams at home. How different are the South Africans, they seem to trouble India each time they are here...
People were wrong in saying that they would be thrashed when they play here. I always knew they would be tough and competitive like they always are. They are quite a challenging side as was evident in the way they pushed us on the back foot. Not many teams have done that in India and I'm glad that we drew the series coming from behind.
After all the trouble you faced in recent months, how satisfying or relieving is this Man-of-the-Series award?
Apart from what happened off the field, I was happy with my cricket. It wasn't showing in the number of wickets I took, but I was happy with the way I was chipping in with something or the other. Probably it was due and by the grace of god, I came good when winning had become most important. We needed it to stay No. 2 (in the ICC Test rankings), so this is a big one.
How does it feel, being days away from becoming part of something that might remain as a major landmark in the history of cricket?
What impresses me most is the fact that it gives youngsters a chance to learn from the best players in the world. It also gives them financial security which we didn't get when we were growing up. I lost my father early and there was a time when had to think of leaving cricket, going abroad and do some job to sustain my family. The IPL gives these guys some security.
But it's just Twenty20, how much can a youngster learn from it?
It depends on what you mean by learning. It's not necessary to learn only from Test matches. Just to see how your heroes prepare, what they do while training can give you a huge kick. I was called at the India team's nets in Mohali in 1995 where I bowled to the likes of Tendulkar, Azharuddin, Kumble, Navjot Sidhu. They encouraged me and coming from them, it was massive. A word from such guys can change your life.
You have taken and will in all probability take many more wickets in international cricket. Just how special will be the three wickets in the two finals of the tri-series in Australia (he got Andrew Symonds twice and Matthew Hayden once at times when they were threatening to make it difficult for India. Plus, his relationship with these two was worst)?
Every wicket is special in its own way and getting rid of such quality players means more. Still, it was special because it helped us beat Australia in Australia. Given the situation of the games, these were the most important wickets because they were playing well. And it was a tough time for me because of everything that was going on. It wasn't easy because I was dealing with something that I wasn't used to. Considering everything, these three wickets will be right up there with the best of my performances.
Will it be possible for you to play against Australia again and not to think of what happened there?
Can't say for sure, but for how long can you keep thinking of what happened in the past? You have to think of the present and the future. When I play them again I will rather think of how I contributed to the wins against them.