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For Harbhajan Singh, life has come a full circle.
Dumped from the team after the 2007 World Cup debacle in the West Indies, he fought his way back and played a stellar role in India's triumphant Twenty20 World Cup campaign in South Africa.
The 27-year-old off-spinner, also dubbed the 'Turbanator', was at his magical best in the newest version of the game, not only claiming key wickets but also restricting the runs.
Now back in the team for the seven-match One-Day International series against Australia, which gets underway on Saturday in Bangalore, he hopes to keep delivering top-class performances.
The champion spinner spoke to Special Correspondent Harish Kotian in Bangalore on the memorable Twenty20 triumph.
In your last interview to rediff.com, you mentioned how eagerly you were looking forward to making a comeback and proving yourself. So, in that sense, how satisfying was it to turn in such a magnificent showing at the Twenty20 World Cup?
Well, I was just trying to stick to what I was doing in England, where I was bowling at my best. I had the hunger to prove myself again and that kept me going.
There was a lot of talk going that I am not good enough, that I am bowling too fast, that I am doing this and that. At the end of the day I knew that it was just a matter of time or, maybe, more than that for me to comeback [into the Indian team]. But I have to keep working on my game and keep coming hard whenever I play any kind of cricket.
I was lucky that I got to play county cricket in between the period [when I was dropped], so I was busy playing competitive cricket. I bowled a lot of overs, got back my rhythm and took a lot of wickets there. That helped me come back into the side.
I am really happy with the way things have gone in the Twenty20 World Cup. I have bowled well, taken wickets whenever there was need to take wickets and I am really happy with the way we performed there.
But that is not everything. We have got a lot of cricket coming up, a lot of tough cricket coming up this year, so we just need to be focused. Whatever we achieved is history now; we have to look forward to playing against Australia and Pakistan at home, and then onwards to wherever the team goes.
The Indian pace bowling attack was relatively inexperienced. You were the senior-most bowler in the Twenty20 squad in terms of experience. So was there any additional pressure on you to deliver?
Obviously, it adds a lot of responsibility when you are the senior bowler in the team, You have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders and you have to take it. At the end of the day you want to play for your country, do well and win games. So I took all the challenges and it was great to support my young captain (Mahendra Singh Dhoni).
He is a great guy and you could see how nicely we gelled together as a team. We fielded brilliantly, we bowled well and there was a lot of communication going on in the ground, as to who should bowl or who should bat or field where. So there was a lot of planning going on. Twenty20 is not a small event; it goes quick, but still 20 overs are a lot of overs and you need to have back-up plans.
So a lot of credit goes to Dhoni and his captaincy. We were there to support him and with the grace of God everything went to plan and we won the World Cup.
Australia are going to come hard at us and it will be a good series if we play to our potential. I am sure that if we play to potential we are capable of beating any team.
Most of the players in the squad did not have any experience in Twenty20, though you played some Twenty20 cricket in England. Did that experience help?
I didn't play any Twenty20 cricket this season in county cricket, but I played when I was there in 2005. It is fun over there, but here it is totally a different ball game. When you play against international sides, it is completely different. They have got good players who can hit good balls out of the park. It is a batsman's game and you've got to accept it, because somehow you will go for runs in the tournament. You just have to be brave enough and take the challenge to bowl in Twenty20.
If you can bowl well in Twenty20, you should be very happy and satisfied with your performance. If you can bowl in Twenty20, you can bowl in one-dayers internationals, or for that matter any kind of cricket. So, in that sense, it was very satisfying to bowl there and come back with flying colours.
Tell us about the atmosphere in the Indian camp during the bowl-out against Pakistan in the group match. How tense was it?
I remember one game in England when I was playing for Surrey. We had the bowl-out there and we won there as well. It was fun, but at the same time there was pressure on us well.
Before the bowl-out against Pakistan we were all practicing and trying to hit the stumps. I tried a few times but didn't hit the stumps even once. But when it came to the bowl-out I hit the stumps, so it was a great relief. It was that victory against Pakistan from where we lifted our confidence. After that bowl-out win we never looked back.
Even though we lost to New Zealand in the Super Eight we were still in the game for the most part of it and it looked we could chase even 190. We lost a couple of wickets in the middle overs but we could have ended up chasing that huge score as well.
After that loss to New Zealand , India gained from strength to strength and won every game to capture the World Cup. What caused the turnaround?
I think the willingness. Everybody wanted to do it and all the seniors and younger boys took responsibility to perform at their best. Look at someone like Rohit Sharma. He batted very well. Yuvraj Singh batted brilliantly against Australia and England. Dhoni batted well whenever he went out in the middle and he did really well. All the boys chipped whenever they got a chance and gave big performances whether with the bat or ball.
R P Singh, Sreesanth, Joginder [Sharma], Irfan [Pathan] and myself took the responsibility to bowl well and the batsmen took the responsibility to bat well.
We fielded superbly, which was great to see. An Indian team diving around and stopping those boundaries, and diving to save one or two runs --- that was great to see. It was a big change. Our fielding was outstanding throughout the tournament.
In the last nine years since I began playing for India I never saw an Indian team field so brilliantly. This is the best ever fielding side that I have ever been involved with. It was great to be there with the young guys, rubbing shoulders with them and trying to give them confidence.
What did you think of Misbal-ul Haq's batting? He nearly took Pakistan to victory in both the matches, but failed at the very end.
Cricket is a funny game and this can happen. He is a good player and throughout the tournament, and not just against us, he got a lot of runs. That he could not finish the game that is a different thing, and it does not mean that he is a bad batsman. He is a very good player.
I think we played better cricket than Pakistan and the rest of the teams in the tournament and we were deserving champions.
You ended up with seven wickets in the tournament, at an impressive average of 26, having not given many runs throughout. What were you looking to do? Were you looking to stop the flow of runs or trying to take wickets? How do you strike that balance?
Obviously, I wanted to take wickets just like any other bowler would like to, but at the same time you just can't give too many runs in Twenty20. You know the batsmen are going to come hard at you and they are going to try and slog everything wherever they can. You just have to be very consistent with your line and length and have to be very sure of what you are doing. If you stick to those things with your line and length and plan what you are going to do, you have more chances to succeed. That is what I was trying to do, trying to vary my line and length according to the batsman, considering where he is looking to play. You have to outsmart the batsman's thinking. You have to think like a batsman and try to think what he is going to do. You just have to back yourself and look to bowl good deliveries.
The final match was a big rollercoaster ride. At no point, till the final Pakistan wicket fell, could anyone predict which team was going to win. What was going on within you?
It was a proper final match and a proper India-Pakistan game. I am glad we came out on top and got the victory. It was a great game of wicket.
We never got the momentum when we were batting. Frankly speaking, 158 was not that great a total in Twenty20, especially in Johannesburg, where we were playing the final. It is a good wicket to bat on.
Luckily we bowled well. R P Singh took a couple of wickets early on and from that point we were getting wickets regularly after that. Irfan came on to bowl and he bowled a brilliant spell. I had an off day and went for 19 runs in one over in that game, but I was bowling from the end where the boundary was very small. But that is not an excuse. Every bowler, as I said, will go for runs at some stage in the tournament. But that was not the right time to go for runs. But I am glad the other bowlers took the responsibility and stuck to the basics and did the job for the team.
It was Dhoni's first tournament as captain. He seemed to really get along well in the field, particularly with field placements for the bowlers. Though it is quite early to ask, what is your take on his captaincy?
He is a great guy. He would listen to everybody and take everybody's opinion before making a decision. He wants to take the team forward and that is why the team won the World Cup under him.
I am sure with the kind of ability he has, not only in his batting, but as a captain too, I think he can definitely be one of the great captains India has ever produced. But we need to give him a lot of time and support. Being senior members, it is our responsibility to support him and give him whatever he asks for.
The entire Indian team went crazy after the last Pakistan wicket fell in the final. Did the feeling immediately sink in that you had won the World Cup?
I was just too happy. I could not think of anything. I just went on and on dancing, singing and holding the flag high. I was talking to the crowd, hugging my team mates, having a lot of fun out in the middle. It was great fun and we were so happy.
The victory parade in Mumbai was unbelievable; the whole city was on the streets. Were you amazed with their reception?
It was absolutely amazing! I have never seen anything like that. You can't even dream of something like that. I would just like to salute those people who stood by us and stood for us even when it was raining. There were lakhs and lakhs of people on the street cheering for us.
As Dhoni rightly said..Mumbai chalti rehti hai, ladkon ne Mumbai ko rukva diya�[Mumbai never stops, but my boys have brought Mumbai to a standstill]
I could never even dream something like this could happen. It was just unbelievable, bada maaza aaya, kabhi socha nahi life main aisa kuch dekhne ko milega [it was great fun; never imagined I would see something like that in life].
With the Twenty20 World Cup over, you take on World champions Australia in the 50-overs game in a seven-match series. How do you rate our chances?
Every match is important and we know that the series is very important. Now two champions are playing each other in this series. They are [50 overs] World Cup champions and we are also [Twenty20] World Cup champions, so it will be interesting.
Australia is a very good team and they will definitely come hard at us. They don't like to get beaten and they were beaten by us in the Twenty20 World Cup, which was a great win by us. It will be a great series. We are looking forward to playing in the series and again playing important roles and winning the series for India.
Your message to the fans, who can't stop singing your and the team's praises after the World Cup victory?
I thank them for having faith in me. I would like to tell them not to get too excited when things go wrong and when things go good, because everything they do is just extreme.
They give us a hard time when we don't do well; similarly, it's the other extreme when we do well. So I would like to tell them to be patient. We love to play for them and win for them. We will continue doing the good work and winning matches for them and for us.
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