It'll be very difficult for anyone to fill in Anil bhai's shoes. He's been an inspiration and a role model. But, with more than 10 years of experience in international cricket, I'm now ready to step forward and take the responsibility, says Harbhajan Singh in an interview to The India Express.
Harbhajan Singh has been on a rollercoaster ride over the last year. Along with being involved in the racism row in Australia and slapping Sreesanth at the IPL, he has also shown he has something left to offer with the ball in his hand with a successful tour of Sri Lanka.
Now "wiser from the experience", he is awaiting the Aussies in his own den. Though he refused to talk about the latest controversy surrounding Andrew Symonds, Harbhajan spoke to The Indian Express about Anil Kumble, Ajantha Mendis and the upcoming Australia series.
Excerpts from an interview:
You must be relieved after your bowling performance in Sri Lanka. Did you feel going into the series that it could make or break your career?
"This will perhaps come as surprise to people, but I had absolutely no apprehensions ahead of the series. I was pumped up, and I wanted to bowl to my potential and enjoy the game. I told myself that was the best way to be successful. When I was bowling, I could sense that my rhythm was good. Once that happens, a player enjoys his cricket. I'd set some goals before going into the series, and I achieved them with hard work. I would've been happier if we had won the Test series.
Much of the attention was on Ajantha Mendis despite the presence of experienced off-spinners such as you and Muralitharan. How do you rate Mendis?
"He's an exceptional talent. He was a surprise package for our batsmen. The best thing is that he has a lot of variations in his bowling that can deceive anybody. People may say our experienced batsmen didn't play him well, but you have to give credit to Mendis for bowling the way he did. He was the deciding factor in the series -- take him out and India would've won easily. With such talent, he is surely going to have great impact in the future.
Anil Kumble is in the twilight of his career. How much will his absence be felt in Indian cricket, and what would be your role after he's retired?
"It'll be very difficult for anyone to fill in Anil bhai's shoes. He's been an inspiration and a role model. But, with more than 10 years of experience in international cricket, I'm now ready to step forward and take the responsibility. We have some talented spinners in Piyush Chawla, Pragyan Ojha and Murali Kartik. We need to plan ahead keeping them in mind. Spin has been our strength and we must further it.
The Australia series starts in a month. You enjoy bowling against them?
"People always talk about the 32 wickets I got in that 2001 series. It was a dream series and I've got some special memories from it. Australia were on a winning spree but we succeeded in beating them. Even on our last tour to Australia, we played great cricket and we can only hope for a similar performance this time as well. At the same time, we lost to them at home in 2004, so we need to put up a good show.
You also seem to enjoy your battles with Ricky Ponting.
"I enjoy bowling to him. Since he's one of the best batsmen in the world, it is always a challenge for bowlers. I'm happy I've got him out a few times and hope my hold on him continues.
Would it be fair to say that India start favourites this time?
"Both teams are competitive and the cricket will be electric. As for myself, I'm looking forward to the Irani Cup match. I'm more confident now than when we went to Sri Lanka.