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'This is the beginning of a new Harbhajan'

Last updated on: December 01, 2010 12:39 IST
Harbhajan Singh is soaring high after his wonderful performance with the bat and ball in the Test series against New Zealand.'s Harish Kotian spoke to the 'new Gary Sobers,' as Rahul Dravid describes him.

Harbhajan Singh is the man of the moment.

Never before has an Indian cricketer batting at number eight outscored the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, V V S Laxman and Rahul Dravid in a Test series, at home.

Harbhajan stunned everyone by scoring his maiden Test century in the first Test against New Zealand in Ahmedabad. Almost immediately, he bagged another ton in the next game to prove, that with a little bit of application, he could well be India's next Kapil Dev.

His magnificent feat of hitting back to back centuries at number eight, scoring 300 runs in the series and getting 10 wickets has put him in an elite list that includes the legendary Gary Sobers.

The 30-year-old off-spinner has now set his sights on the all-important tour of South Africa later this month, a high-voltage battle between the top Test teams in the world.

Did you ever imagine that one day you would be man of the series, largely for your batting?

I didn't get it for my batting alone, but for my all-round performance. I have been playing as a bowler for many years now, but never ever did I imagine I would be man of the series for my all-round performance.

Harbhajan SinghHow special was it scoring the back to back centuries?

Obviously, I was very excited.

The icing on the cake was that I also created a few records on the way -- no one has ever scored two centuries at number eight.

Also, the record of scoring 300 runs and taking more than 10 wickets in the series which only a few great players can boast of, which includes the legendary Gary Sobers.

It feels great to be in such elite company.

Another record I made was hitting 14 sixes in the series. I am the highest hitter of sixes in Tests in 2010.

It was raining records for me in the series!

Would you consider yourself an all-rounder now?

I would not like to tag myself with any title. I will just go out and perform to the best of my abilities.

If the fans and media think I am an all-rounder I cannot change that perception, but nothing changes for me. I will keep trying to do my best when I get a chance with the bat.

How have expectations increased after those centuries?

Of course, expectations increase when you have a good run with the bat. I will work hard on my batting.

Which century was more difficult to get?

Your maiden Test century or the second ton, which proved you were capable of scoring hundreds and that the first century was not a fluke?

Obviously, getting the first century was more difficult because I had never scored a century in Tests.

I had no idea how to get to the landmark, but to my benefit the situation was perfect for me.

When I went into bat, we had lost six wickets. The scenario was perfect because somebody had to stay at the wicket and save the match.

So I am glad the runs came from my bat. I managed to stay with Laxman and then bat till tea the next day.

I am really happy to have saved the game.

Does it come close to your hat-trick against Australia in the Kolkata Test in 2001?

That performance will always be special because that was a comeback series for me. Australia were dominating world cricket and had come into the series winning 17 Test matches. They had a strong team and beating them was very difficult.

Winning that series was very special.

This has been a very good series for me because I have scored centuries, taken wickets and made new records. I am delighted with the achievement.

This is the beginning of a new Harbhajan Singh where I can actually think of a mode with my batting as well.

Earlier, I had never made a century, but now after getting two of them, my hunger and desire for runs has increased.

I cannot promise a hundred in the future, but whatever runs I score, I hope to do it when the team needs it the most.

Sometimes you score when the team has already made a big score and the opposition bowlers are tired, then everyone scores.

My emphasis would be to contribute with the bat whenever the team is in a crisis. That will give me great satisfaction like I got in this series.

There is an ad on television which shows how you made it big after nearly giving up cricket to work in your father's business.

How much do you miss your father?

I always miss him. I feel he is always up there, watching me and protecting me from all the bad eyes. It would have been great to have him around all these years. I have missed him a lot.

Without his blessings I don't think I would have achieved whatever I have achieved so far.

You gestured to Sachin Tendulkar as you celebrated your maiden Test century. What role has Tendulkar played in improving your batting?

I made that gesture to Sachin because that special moment, which I would usually dedicate to my father, is also dedicated to all those people who actually wanted me to get a hundred in Test cricket.

Sachin is on top of that list because he would always tell me that I throw away my wicket and if I applied myself I could get a century.

Does he scold you in the dressing room if he thinks you threw away your wicket?

We have had a discussion a few times. In Adelaide I went for a big shot and threw away my wicket (after scoring 63). He told me you don't get the chance to score a century every day and today you missed a great chance to get a hundred.

Whenever I get 50, 60 and get out playing crazy shots he always comes and talks to me.

The special gesture I made was to tell Sachin that this century is for you since he always wanted me to get a century.

We saw a different Harbhajan this series. Someone who was not having a go at the opposition, but was smiling and talking to them throughout.

Have you mellowed down or do you get aggressive only when playing Australia?

I think when I play Australia, the aggression comes out automatically. I don't know why it happens, but it happens.

Against New Zealand, there was not a single incident where I showed my aggression. I don't think it was needed because they are not sledging you or troubling you even once. They are playing quietly, so you also play in the same manner.

Are you satisfied with your bowling in the New Zealand series?

Sometimes, the wickets tally doesn't show how well you have bowled in a series. I am quite satisfied with my performance. I think I bowled better in this series than I did in the previous series against Australia.

But in that series, in two games, I got 11 wickets. In this series in three games I got 10 wickets, which is a little less than what I expect from myself.

It would have been nice to get 5, 6 more wickets, but it doesn't happen always that you bowl well and get wickets.

I want to convey this message to the whole world that bowling well is important because if you are bowling well your wickets will come, if not today, then tomorrow or the day after.

It will come definitely and that is why it is important to keep bowling well rather than bowl bad balls and take wickets because that won't last long.

I am quite satisfied because I believe I bowled well this series and created chances even on good wickets. There have been a few missed catches which is bound to happen, but overall I think I have done well.

In our culture, the critics and experts will only look at the last column as to how many wickets I have taken, but not at how many overs I have bowled, how many maidens I have bowled and how many chances I have created.

You turned 30 this year, an age where spinners get better. We have seen top spinners like Anil Kumble and Muttiah Muralitharan improve their record after turning 30. Does a spinner improve with age and experience?

I hope the same will happen in my case. As a spinner and player you learn something new every day when you come to the ground. So definitely with more experience, you keep getting better, you get more mature.

I want to be somewhere close to where all these guys have reached. Maybe not Muralitharan, who is sitting right on top with 800 wickets, but definitely at some level where I can be satisfied with my performances and can say to myself at the end of my career that I have given my best shot and achieved everything that I had set out to achieve. I will be happy with that.

How tough is it to win a series in South Africa where we have won just one Test out of the 12 we have played in 18 years?

South Africa in South Africa is a very tough side. We all know that. We have got the team and the potential to do well. If we play positively and be tough throughout I am sure we can achieve the results we want.

I am sure we can beat South Africa, but to do that we have to work really hard.

We have shown in the past against other teams that we can overcome all odds. I don't see any problems in beating South Africa at home, but we have to stay positive and play to our potential.

How does a spinner's role change when you have conditions like in South Africa, where seamers are expected to take most of the burden?

It is all about bowling in pairs. I have always said that whatever combination you play -- whether it is three fast bowlers and a spinner, or two fast bowlers and two spinners -- you have to make sure you are bowling according to the field and according to plan.

Obviously, our coach Gary Kirsten's experience and knowledge of South Africa will help us win the series.

I think all the bowlers need to take responsibility. I can say whatever role I am given, I will give it my best shot, whether it is with the bat or ball.

Harish Kotian