- 'India are strong contenders to get into semi-final along with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa'
- 'Rohit is a class player and if he gets going at the top of the order, then he also has the ability to single-handedly win matches for India'
India's batting line-up led by Virat Kohli can chase any total on a given day but bowlers need to stand up and be counted in order to retain the cricket World Cup, feels spinner Harbhajan Singh.
"India possess a fabulous batting line-up with Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane forming the core but we would need the likes of Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami to perform like Zaheer Khan, in order to retain the World Cup," Harbhajan, a key member of the victorious 2011 World Cup squad, said in an exclusive interview.
Harbhajan then did an elaborate analysis on what can be expected of Indian bowlers at the World Cup.
"I think we would be playing with four specialist bowlers and may be an all-rounder (Stuart Binny). With the field restrictions and two new balls, I believe we need at least three bowlers to perform on any given day out of four," stated Harbhajan, who has the experience of playing three World Cup including two finals.
"It's always not possible for all four to perform on a given day but at the most, we must have three of the four specialist bowlers performing in every match. At the most, we can have one bowler on a given day who might not click but you can't afford to have two bowlers leaking runs from both sides. Then it can create pressure on other bowlers also," he further explained.
Harbhajan is of the opinion that India's spin troika of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel will find it advantageous to bowl with white kookaburra on hard Australian pitches.
"There is a difference between a ball which is 45 overs old and one which is 25 overs old. In Australia, the white kookaburras used from either side will be barely 10-12 overs old when the spinners come into operation (in case they are not called in Powerplay overs). The seam would still be intact which would help the spinners grip it better and get more purchase out of the tracks," said the veteran of 101 Tests, 229 ODIs and 25 T20 Internationals.
India's performance in the recently concluded tri-nation tournament in Australia may have received flak but Harbhajan is not ready to read too much into that performance.
"I don't think performance in tri-series will be a parameter, as India are strong contenders to get into semi-final along with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Don't forget we had injury issues and everybody wasn't 100 percent fit. With the break, I believe everyone would come into the World Cup fresh and raring to go," reminded Harbhajan.
The 'Turbanator' was effusive in his praise for India's batting mainstay Kohli, who he feels doesn't buckle down under pressure.
"Virat thrives in pressure situation. The more the pressure on Virat, better he plays. There aren't too many batsmen in world cricket today, who love chasing and burden of trying to overtake a big score. Virat is one guy, who would always back himself to chase any total.
"Also the pressure of expectation that's there for everybody in the Indian team... It's not that only Virat will be under pressure but it's the same for Dhoni, Rahane, Rohit or Ishant. It's the World Cup and there is bound to be pressure," Harbhajan observed.
Harbhajan also feels that "a fit Rohit Sharma" could be the "x-factor" in India's campaign at the big-ticket event Down Under.
"Rohit is a class player and if he gets going at the top of the order, then he also has the ability to single-handedly win matches for India. Even I believe Shikhar will be back in form. I would like to wish the team all the best and pray that they retain the Cup," concluded Harbhajan.