Harbhajan keen to make 100th Test a memorable one
Harbhajan Singh will be finally playing in his 100th Test match.
The offie has been included in the Indian XI for the opening Test against Australia at the MA Chidambaram stadium starting Friday.
The news of his inclusion in the team was conveyed to Harbhajan on Thursday morning, the same ending a one-and-a-half year wait for the bowler.
Since playing the second Test (his 98th) against England at Trent Bridge (Nottingham) in 2011, Harbhajan had to wait for more than a year to play his 99th – against the same opponents at the Wankhede stadium last November. A forgettable performance in that match ensured he was dropped again for the next two matches.
However, Chepauk's reputation of being a spin-friendly track, coupled with the fact that Harbhajan has an impressive record at the venue -- 39 wickets in six Tests (@ 26.56) -- ensured he got the nod as the third spinner.
When the 32-year-old takes to the field on Friday he will become the ninth Indian cricketer -- after Sachin Tendulkar (194), Rahul Dravid (163), VVS Laxman (134), Anil Kumble (132), Kapil Dev (131), Sunil Gavaskar (125), Dilip Vengsarkar (116), Saurav Ganguly (113) and Virender Sehwag (101) -- to play in 100 Test matches. No wonder he was elated at having finally reached that personal landmark.
"It's obviously a big moment for me," he said, in a self-assured manner.
"It's great to see your name alongside greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar and the others," he added.
After admitting that the seemingly endless wait had been frustrating, the bowler was quick to add that he would like to put the past behind him and do his bit hold onto his place in the squad in the long run.
"I have faced these kinds of situations before," said Harbhajan, adding, "I have worked hard when I was away from the team and want to look ahead now.
"I would like to make it memorable."
'When you are not playing is when there's a renewed motivation'
Having finally got the nod, the bowler admitted being nervous ahead of the match.
"A milestone, or a number as important as this (100), does play on your mind," said Harbhajan. The fact that there's added pressure to perform, if he is to avoid the sack again, also played on the bowler's mind.
That he didn't do as well as expected in the domestic season to merit selection, and thereby cement his place in the side, is given. Despite having led Punjab to the semi-finals of the Ranji Trophy, the off-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, saying the motivation to get back to the side egged him on to do better.
"When you are not playing is when there's a renewed motivation to make your way back to the team," he explained."Playing for India is always a big motivation," added Harbhajan.
'It is just about believing in yourself and working towards that end'
It is sheer coincidence that the 32-year-old will be playing his 100th Test against Australia, a team against which he made his debut – at the M Chinnaswamy stadium (Bangalore) in March 1998 – and a team against which he has traditionally done well, having taken 90 (in 16 Tests) of his 408 wickets.
"I don't know if I have a special connection with the Aussies but it always nice to play against a side as good as they are," said Harbhajan, before proceedings to douse expectations of a repeat of his 2001 performance -- a series that witnessed him picking up 32 wickets in just three Tests, including 15 in the decider at Chepauk.
"That (the 2001 series) was a long time back," explained the bowler, adding, "I can't keep thinking about it again and again.
"That kind of a series happens only once, where everything you do happens to click." Harbhajan, however, stuck to his pre-series statement that India could possibly whitewash Australia.
"I believe it is possible," he said.
"It is just about believing in yourself and working towards achieving that end," added Harbhajan. The bowler also became a tad philosophical about his coming back to the team to play the milestone match and vowed to fight hard.
"It's been a journey of ups and downs," assessed Harbhajan, adding,
"No one can always be at the top."But I have learnt from my seniors never to give up and I hope to make the most of this opportunity and ensure the wait for 150 Tests isn't as long as this one was."