I am happy to be back in the Test squad: Harbhajan
The selectors handed out of favour spinner Harbhajan Singh another lifeline when they picked him up in the 15-man Indian squad for the first two Tests against Australia.
With Team India under a lot of pressure following the debacle on home soil against England last year, the selectors opted to focus on strengthening the spin attack in a bid to counter an Australian side mostly consisting of players with little or no experience of playing in Indian conditions.
So R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha retained their places, and so did Ravindra Jadeja, the selectors preferred Harbhajan ahead of the equally unimpressive Piyush Chawla. The off-spinner was palpably ecstatic upon receiving the news.
"I am happy to be back in the Test squad," he gushed.
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'Making a comeback to the national side is always tough'
"Australia is my favourite team and it's always nice to play against them," he continued, adding, "I am looking forward to be a part of the Test side and try and make a difference."
The last couple of years have been tough on the veteran spinner. He was dropped from the Test team after a listless performance during India's tour of England, a series where he managed just two wickets while averaging a disappointing 143.50.
He remained on the sidelines for more than a year before being drafted into the squad for the second Test against the same opposition at the Wankhede stadium last November, even as the selectors opted for a three-pronged spin attack to exploit England's wicket against the same.
However, Harbhajan failed to make an impact in the match, even as the visitors sealed a memorable win, and was dropped for the subsequent two matches.
"Making a comeback to the national side is always tough," admitted the bowler.
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'I have been working really hard on my game and trying to improve'
"But as long as you continue to work hard, it is always possible to make a comeback," he added.
If wickets were criteria, Harbhajan has clearly not done enough in the last three months. Even as he led Punjab to the semi-finals of the Ranji Trophy this season, the 32-year-old spinner was only the fourth highest wicket-taker for his side in the campaign, with 16 wickets - six of them having come in the semi-final loss against Saurashtra.
However, his match-haul of five wickets, even as he led the Rest of India to the Irani Cup title against Mumbai, probably bolstered his case. Harbhajan albeit refused to buy the argument that he was struggling with the ball.
"I have bowled well in the domestic season," he explained, before proceeding to justify his point.
"I have been working really hard on my game and trying to improve," he continued, adding, "But unfortunately, most of our domestic we play on wickets where the numbers don't exactly explain your work rate.
"However, I am happy with my rhythm, and the way I've been bowling has given me a lot of confidence which I look to carry forward in the series against Australia."
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'I like playing against Australia'
Another factor that probably tilted the decision of the selectors in Harbhajan's favour is his impeccable record against the team from Down Under. Statistics point out the fact that 90 of his 408 Test wickets, including a whopping 81 (in just 12 Tests) on home soil, have come against Australia -- against no other country has the bowler done as well.
"I like playing against Australia," admitted Harbhajan, adding, "But you should ask the selectors if my record against that team influenced their decision.
"I would say every day is a new opportunity for me. And I believe I am still good enough to play for India."
The trademark confidence apart, should Harbhajan make the playing XI in the opening match in Chennai beginning February 22, he would become only the eighth Indian player to play in 100 Test matches. And that would be quite an achievement for a player who has had a chequered career.
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