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‘I play with my heart, for my country’

Four days before the all-important Eden Test, Harbhajan is confident that statistic will stay right up there. “I’m playing a Test there after a long time, so it should be good. So far, I’ve done well in Eden and, hopefully, it will stay that way," Bhajji said. Kadambari Murali Wade reports.

cricket Updated: Feb 11, 2010 00:46 IST
Kadambari Murali Wade

Harbhajan Singh is under fire but he’s planning to fight back.

The 29-year-old, the most successful off-spinner in India’s history, has been going through a relatively lean period of late, but he said he wasn’t worried by either the lack of five-wicket hauls or the barrage of criticism.

“I think I’ve performed enough to prove what kind of bowler I am, again and again,” said Harbhajan on Wednesday. “I play with my heart, for my country. As individuals, as a team, we have just one cause and that’s India. I have done very well for India, my record says it all.”

Harbhajan said that he, like other Indian players, did not give much credence to those who rubbished them. “If I do well in one match, I’m a good player, if I don’t do as well in another, then I’m not a good player. Every bowler goes out to take wickets, sometimes you succeed, sometimes, you don’t. There’s no point getting into this, it’s better to concentrate on my game and the match ahead,” said the spinner, somewhat irate.

Harbhajan had one question — why would anyone ask if he was under pressure. The reply he got was this: Because he seemed to be defensive rather than attacking, and for someone with his record and calibre, it seemed under par. So was there pressure?

Pat came the answer. “Not at all. I have the support of my team and frankly, that’s what matters, not what anyone says. I know myself, I know what I need to do. I’ve performed very well over time and the statistics, the records reflect that, that’s for everyone to see. Yes, there is the pressure of the match, which is always there, but apart from that, there’s nothing.”

And then there’s a pause. “There are tremendous expectations. You can’t really take five wickets every day. They (the Proteas) have come here to play, they aren’t here on holiday. They are among the best in the world, and have played superbly, you can’t take that away from them, give them that credit.”

Critics talk about his lack of performance over the last 12 months, yet, he’s only played four Tests at home in this period. Three were against Sri Lanka, among the best players of spin in the world and one, this first Test against South Africa. It’s also an indication of how short public memory is (mea culpa here too) that most have forgotten that Harbhajan was the highest wicket-taker in two series over the last year --- at home against Lanka (13 wickets in three Tests) and away in New Zealand (16 in three Tests).

In fact, it’s very interesting that his away record this year has been far better than his home record, 18 wickets in four Tests at 25.83 is actually outstanding for a spinner.

You have to go back a bit more in Harbhajan’s career to see why people say there’s a lack of consistency.

In the last five years at home, he’s played 23 Tests, taken 99 wickets at 34.11, with a best of 7/62 and had five fivers. Over half of those Tests have come in the last two years (12 Tests), where he’s taken 57 wickets at 33.47.

Perhaps, as Harbhajan says, there’s the burden of expectations. But it was inevitable --- he paved the ground for that himself, as a raw, impassioned 20-year-old grabbing 32 wickets in an epoch series against the all-conquering Australians nine years ago.

But while there’s the fact that nothing’s ever come close to those heady days of early 2001, it’s not been all rocky either. And, as Dhoni remarked on Wednesday, soon after India’s loss, “He’s a big game player, he always comes back in big games”.

That’s what India will want from Harbhajan in Kolkata. While his record at home against the Safs --- six Tests and 34 wickets at 28.50, with a best of 7/87 — is not in the same league as his home record against the Aussies, where he has 70 wickets at 23.11 apiece and has grabbed five wickets in an innings an incredible seven times in just 10 Tests, it’s still pretty darn good.

And four days before the all-important Eden Test, Harbhajan is confident that statistic will stay right up there. “I’m playing a Test there after a long time, so it should be good. So far, I’ve done well in Eden and, hopefully, it will stay that way. Kolkata has always been good for India.”

Amen to that.

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