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Rediff.com  » Cricket » Nothing can get bigger than the World Cup: Harbhajan

Nothing can get bigger than the World Cup: Harbhajan

Last updated on: February 11, 2011 09:31 IST

Nothing can get bigger than the World Cup: Harbhajan

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Spinners are likely to make a strong impact in the upcoming World Cup, as the pitches are expected to get lower and slower as the tournament moves on.

With that in mind, off-spinner Harbhajan Singh is relishing the prospect of playing a major role for India in the mega-event.

The 30-year-old, who played in two World Cups already, boasts of a magnificent career tally of 246 wickets in 217 games, at an impressive economy rate of 4.3. He is also looking forward to playing a leading hand with the bat given his consistent run in the recent months.

Senior Associate Editor Harish Kotian caught up with the wily bowler at the M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore after the Indian team's practice session on Thursday.

Sri Lanka is the only team to have won the World Cup at home, in 1996. Do you think this Indian team can break the so called 'home' jinx?

Honestly, we have got the team that can definitely lift the World Cup. We have been playing some good cricket and continue to do what we have been doing and what made us a successful team.

I am sure all the boys are looking forward to this event; it is going to be big and, hopefully, we can do well. We will have to follow the process and the results will follow.

Is there also a lot of pressure on the team? Everyone expects you win the World Cup. There is a feeling that anything less will not accepted by the country's cricket-crazy fans. 

Well, whenever you play cricket for your country there is always pressure. But the World Cup always brings more pressure, because everyone expects, as you said, a lot, since we are playing at home and have a great record in the last two years.

So it is natural that people have a lot of expectations from us. All I can say is that we just want to keep on working hard and follow the process. I am sure if we do that we will get the results we are looking for.


Image: Harbhajan Singh
Photographs: Reuters
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'I am looking forward to the World Cup'

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But isn't the Indian team also desperate to do well after being knocked out in the first round in the last World Cup in 2007?

Last time was obviously not the kind of result we were looking for; it was very unfortunate that we got eliminated in the first round itself. A lot of things have changed from then on and we are very confident that we will put up a great show. I have faith in everyone's abilities; people will step up and perform really well.

How are you looking at India's opening match against Bangladesh? Is it a chance to get some revenge, or is the team just looking to make a good start to the tournament?

You cannot take any team lightly. Bangladesh is a very good side; they have upset a few top sides in international cricket, including us, in the World Cup. We have to take them seriously.

All I can say is that when we go there on the 19th of February, it will be a test of our abilities. We will give not just 100 percent, but 200 percent, to start well.

The first match will start the tone for the tournament, so we would like to begin on a positive note. That will be very important.

You have played in two World Cups, in 2003 and 2007. Would you say it is the biggest stage to perform for any cricketer?

Well, obviously, nothing can get bigger than the World Cup. The 50-over World Cup is the biggest event in cricket and I am really glad that I will be participating in my third World Cup. I am looking forward to it.


Image: Harbhajan Singh

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'You need to read the situation and bowl accordingly'

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What is the key for a spinner to do well on Indian pitches, which are mostly loaded in favour of batsmen?

The boundaries are quite small here, and after the advent of the IPL we have seen that batsmen are not scared to go after the bowlers. You have to be smart with what you are doing; you need to read the situation well and the best way to bowl well is to take wickets. You must look to put pressure on the batsmen. By doing that you are trying to help the team achieve their goals.

Sometimes you just have to bowl according to the situation, like if they need to score around eight runs per over to win, you don't have to be silly and try to bowl wicket-taking balls; you just bowl the normal deliveries and look to concede around 4-5 runs per over. That way the run-rate will keep going up and the batsmen will look to do something different and maybe get out.

So you need to be smart when it comes to bowling whether it is the Powerplay or the middle overs. You need to read the situation and bowl accordingly; that is what I will look to do.

Alongside you, India have a couple of inexperienced spinners in their line-up in Piyush Chawla and R Ashwin who have not played much international cricket. How do you rate them?

I think whatever cricket they have played, they have done well. Piyush has been around for many years. He first made his Test debut and then played many ODIs. He is a quality bowler.

Ashwin has proven himself in the IPL, which is not an international event, but a lot of top international players come and play. He has showed that he has got the capability of handing the pressure.

I hope both these youngsters will do well whenever they get an opportunity. We are backing them all the way and hoping they can do well.


Image: Harbhajan Singh

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'I am just hoping that everyone clicks and we have a good World Cup'

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Will spinners play a big role in the World Cup? Will teams like India and Sri Lanka that have more specialist spinners in their squads have an advantage over others?

It depends on what sort of surfaces we will get to play on. I am not really sure if we have got the advantage, or a team like Australia, who have more seamers in their squad, will have an advantage. I believe whoever you have in your squad, you must make best use of those guys.

Obviously, what I feel is that as the tournament goes on the wickets will get slower and definitely the spinners will come into play. We have got a lot of spinners in our team and even part-time spinners have done well for us. I am just hoping that everyone clicks and we will have a good World Cup.

Australia have won the last three World Cups. But this time many believe that they will not be able to retain their title. What is your view on Australia's chances?

You can't write off Australia's chances; they have a very strong and balanced ODI team. Recently they thrashed England 6-1 and you can't say that they are out of the running. Whenever they go into a tournament they give their best and their best quality is that they win games from tight situations.

Winning the World Cup three times in a row is not easy. They have worked really hard for it and so many times won matches from difficult situations.

It would be foolish to say that Australia is not among the favourites, because they have a very good team. I am sure they will come into the tournament with a lot of confidence thinking that they have won the last three World Cups.

But, at the same time, they will also be under a lot of pressure to retain their title. So let's hope the other teams in their group give them tough competition. But you can't say they are not one of the favorites.


Image: Harbhajan Singh

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'I think for us the most important game will be against England'

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India is placed in a tough group and will clash with England, South Africa, West Indies and Bangladesh. Which team will be the toughest among them?

I think for us the most important game will be against England. That is our second match of the tournament. They are a very good side and have got some quality players in the team.

They have a long batting line-up, good seamers and are also a good fielding unit. That match will be very crucial for us and hopefully we can do well.

Apart from that, West Indies, on their day, can be a very good team. They have quality players like Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and a few other guys. You can't take any team lightly in this competition.

As you saw in the last World Cup, Bangladesh beat us; so we can't take anyone for granted.

We have seen in the last couple of weeks that the 1983 World Cup-winning squad players have come out to support the current Indian team. How much of an inspiration will that 1983 World Cup serve for the team?

Whenever I see that picture of Kapil paaji lifting that trophy, it is always special. It would be great if we can repeat that picture, but with a different face.


Image: Harbhajan Singh

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'Kirsten made us the number one team in the world'

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Your good friend and long-time former spin partner Anil Kumble is the new president of the Karnataka State Association. Are you happy with the way he has performed in his new role? Hw do you find the new facilities at the M Chinnaswamy stadium?

Definitely, there is a lot of improvement in terms of dressing room and other facilities. In the first ten years that I came to this stadium there was hardly any change, but when we came here this time we saw a lot of changes. The dressing rooms are nice and spacious and also you can see the new press box and the corporate boxes.

I am sure with the great Anil Kumble at the helm you will see a lot of good things happening to the Chinnaswamy stadium, Karnataka cricket and Indian cricket.

He has got a very sharp brain; he played this game for a long time and was very successful on the field. And even off the field, like in administration, we need champions like him to come forward and serve the game. You will definitely see him perform and deliver good performances in the field of administration too.

Gary Kirsten is all set to quit as Indian coach after the World Cup. How would you remember him?

I would remember him as the best coach I have ever played under. He is a best friend too and always been there to help me. He is a very hard-working guy and gives 100 percent every time.

There are a lot of memories of Gary. He has been a great support to the team, and whatever we have achieved, he is the man behind all the success.

He doesn't like to hog the limelight for our achievements, but is the guy who made us believe that we can win and we can win anywhere. He made us the number one team in the world. 


Image: Harbhajan Singh

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