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The Rediff Cricket Interview / Harbhajan Singh

ICC won't find fault with me: Bhajji

February 07, 2005

With the setting sun providing a golden background, Harbhajan Singh walked into the Wankhede Stadium, which is playing host to the Challenger series -- a tournament that pits India's finest cricketers bar Sachin Tendulkar, who is injured and Harbhajan, who will fly down to Melbourne for some remedial work on his action, against each other.

Bhajji's batting has often brought great entertainment to the crowds and Sunday was no different. Shots of every kind were tried; sometimes with great success and at others with equal disappointment. But the enthusiasm was infectious. And one sat rooted to the spot watching him go about the net session.

Harbhajan is India's best off-spinner. He is also someone who loves a challenge and the coming series against Pakistan is exactly that. Senior Cricket Correspondent Ashish Magotra caught up with the 'Turbanator.'

In a recent interview John Wright mentioned how the players lost their intensity during the three month break last year. Now, the Indian team is in the midst of another break.

When we get a break there are a lot of things that we need to do. Somebody wants to build a house, somebody has to finish doing things for his sponsor, somebody has to act in a few advertisements. There are always things at home that need to be done. It is not like we didn't practice.

We put in a lot of hard work and did what was required but we didn't get into the proper leh (rhythm). I mean, we could have played better but things just didn't work out. This time though things are different, we are all playing a lot of domestic cricket and are in good rhythm.

You were recently reported for a suspect action during the tour of Bangladesh. Does it trouble you?

I have never really worked on any changes in the bowling action and just concentrated on the Deodhar Trophy. I am confident the ICC will find no fault with my action. Right now, my priority is to find a good rhythm before the Pakistan series.

The first time I was reported to the ICC, it was a bit perplexing. But now they seem to call every other bowler. I guess I have got used to it.

I am just enjoying my bowling. I am not happy to miss out on the Challenger Trophy as in a few days, I will be going to Australia to work with (biomechanics expert) Bruce Elliot. But then what has got to be done has got to be done.

Sachin Tendulkar may miss out on the series against Pakistan. In a hypothetical situation, how will the team cope with his absence?

If Sachin is missing the series it is a zabardast (great) opportunity for the other youngsters to shine. Obviously, an inexperienced player can't fill his absence but it is a big opportunity for all those trying to get into the Indian team. If you perform against Pakistan in a high pressure situation it certainly puts you in a good light. Sachin brings so many things to the team and in a series against Pakistan his experience can be vital.

The Pakistan team will be on its way to India soon. Who do you think is their best batsman?

Inzamam-ul Haq is without exception their best batsman. He is the one batsman in their team who can win matches single-handedly. At any point of time, he is definitely among my list of top ten batsmen. Yousuf Youhana is good but Inzamam's form is very important to the team. In Australia, Pakistan struggled without him in the Tests but now in the ODIs, with Inzamam in such great form they looked a much better unit.

Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis believe Shoaib Akhtar is no longer the bowler he used to be. There are reports his teammates don't want him in the team. According to you, how important is Shoaib Akhtar to the Pakistan team?

Everyone is entitled to their view. Akram and Younis have theirs and I have mine. For me, Shoaib Akhtar is the one bowler in their team who is capable of destroying the opposition on any given day. It is just a question of his striking up a good rhythm. He has had a bad time with injuries but he is their best bowler.

And what about Danish Kaneria?

Kaneria is a very good bowler. Usme woh baat hai (He has that special quality about him). He has everything -- nip, spin, shape and turn -- that a bowler can wish for and to top that he performed well in Australia. That changes things for a lot of bowlers and doing well in Australia will give him a lot of confidence. He will be a dangerous proposition for the Indian batsmen.

Who is the favourite for the India-Pakistan series?

I would say if the Indian team plays to potential then we are the better team. But lately Pakistan performed quite well in the VB series and some confidence is sure to rub off on their showing in India. Sri Lanka went there some time back and even though they lost the series 1-0, they played very well thereafter in the series against Pakistan.

Playing against Australia does bring a change in the way you play your cricket; you start to do the tiny things that little bit better. For instance, if you don't field properly, you know they will pinch a single. So you just concentrate that much better. I guess all India-Pakistan series are close, so it is just a matter of who does the little things better.

We have often seen that when you get an early wicket, you are deadly but when that doesn't happen, you seem to lose confidence quite rapidly…

I guess it is the same for all cricketers. A start is very important; for the player as well as the team. It is like if Sourav wins the toss and elects to bat. If we lose a few quick wickets then we struggle. On the other hand, if Sehwag gets going and we put on a few quick runs, the entire team starts to feel confident.

For my bowling it is the same, If I get a few wickets at the start of my spell, I obviously feel on top of my form. But if the batsman plays 10, 12 overs then he is batting well and instead of trying too many things, I look to stick to the basics.

You were in Mumbai recently for the tsunami benefit game.

The cricketers are giving the fees of one match and we felt we needed to do more. That's why I played the charity match in Mumbai. It was really awful. I had a few friends who were in Sri Lanka at the time and they managed to record the waves on their Handyman and it was truly devastating. We must do all we can to help.

Additional inputs: Harish Kotian

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