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The Rediff Cricket Interview / Harbhajan Singh
'It's a great feeling to complete 10 years'
March 25, 2008
It was exactly ten years ago that a young Sikh off-spinner got his first India cap. Bangalore, March 25, 1998: Harbhajan Singh [Images] played his first Test, against Australia. Since then he's an integral part of Indian cricket.
The hunger for wickets and passion for the team hasn't diminished a wee bit. Instead, his variety and artistry with the ball has gone up many a notch. While controversies have dogged his career, the Punjab spinner has displayed great mental toughness to come out of every roadblock.
Not surprisingly, he is India's leading off-spinner, with a haul of 256 wickets in 63 Tests and 189 wickets in 171 ODIs.
Special Correspondent Harish Kotian caught up with the ace off-spinner in Chennai, ahead of the first Test against South Africa, to celebrate the milestone.
Your reactions on completing 10 years in international cricket?
It's a great feeling to complete 10 years in international cricket. For any player who represents his country for 10 years it is a big achievement. I am very happy and very proud of myself. It has been a long journey so far. In future also I hope to continue performing to the best of my abilities in the eight or nine years that I will play for India.
How would you describe your decade in international cricket; ten years is such a long time?
When I played my first Test I did not think that I would play so many matches. But I had definitely thought I that would play for India once; it happened and I kept on playing. During this period I didn't even realise that I played for such a long time till now. Today also it feels like I have not played this long.
Do you still remember your first international match, way back in 1998?
I still remember my first match. I remember I played my first match in Bangalore. Daadi nahi thi..mooch nahi tha [I had no beard, no moustache then]�(smiles). Suddenly, I was playing with all the big names like Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar [Images] and Navjot Singh Sidhu. In fact, Sidhu also happened to be my first room mate. He was someone who I used to watch on television and suddenly I was sharing a room with him.
I also remember that I was quite nervous going into the match. My first wicket was Greg Blewett, which I got off the 10th ball I bowled. In my third over, I dropped a caught and bowled chance off Michael Slater, who had scored a double century against us in a side game and had hit every bowler he faced. So when his catch popped up, I was happy even before I completed the catch and suddenly it went down. Then I got Darren Lehmann's wicket, caught at silly point. So, overall, it was a good experience. I got two wickets gave away around 115 runs in the Bangalore Test.
It was a proud moment playing for India at the young age of 17-and-half. I was so delighted that I was playing Test cricket at such a young age. I was so proud to wear that India jersey that I always wanted to wear; it made me feel special to have earned that jersey and not taken it from someone. I was really happy; so were my parents and friends. It was such a special moment for all of us.
How much did your roommate, Sidhu, help to settle your nerves ahead of your Test debut?
At the start I was afraid to share a room with a player like Sidhu, whom I always admired. I was thinking of what I would talk him, how I would talk to him and all that. When I reached the room and met him, he congratulated me on making it to the international stage.
He told me not to be under any pressure and just play as if it were another Ranji Trophy match. 'Just continue bowling the same way; there is no difference in the way one bowls in international matches. Just try and do the best you can, but don't get overawed by the atmosphere in the ground. Once the match starts, you won't realise how the five days of the Test match go,' he said.
Could you pick the five top performances of your career?
There are so many performances that I would call tops, whether it is in Test cricket or one-dayers or Twenty20 in the last 10 years. I have seen good days and bad days as well and I am sure it happens to every cricketer or person.
If you ask me the top five moments, I would say the hat-trick in the Kolkata Test against Australia [in 2001] was the top of them all. Second could be the series victory over Australia, which we won after losing the first Test. The third moment is the Twenty20 World Cup. Then the fourth is making it to the final of the 2003 World Cup and the fifth is winning the tri-series in Australia.
But performance-wise there have been so many moments in my career. If I start to tell you, it could end up as a long list. So, probably, these are the five top moments of my career so far in the 10 years that I have played cricket.
And what would say were the toughest moments in the ten years?
Cricketing-wise, the toughest moment was apparently the question marks over the legality of my action in 1998-99. It was quite tough for me then, as I was quite young and just didn't know what to do. I was not too sure what to do. Then I went to England [Images], got my action cleared, but then I was dropped from the ODI team.
Then another tough moment was being expelled from the National Cricket Academy in 2000. Obviously, after that was going out in the group stages of the 2007 World Cup. That was probably very tough to accept because we never thought it would happen. The reaction of the public in India was as if we had killed someone; but we did not play well in the World Cup.
Other than that there were tough moments, like when Greg Chappell was the coach of the Indian team. The two years that he was the coach was probably the toughest, not only for me but for Indian cricket overall.
So how do you intend celebrating a decade in cricket?
There is no celebration planned. I am just looking forward to win this first Test match against South Africa and also the series for my team.