New Delhi: Harbhajan Singh lists a whole lot of pointers to cite why India can hope to go far in the upcoming World Cup, the uppermost being their ability to fight till the last ball.
Harbhajan, who will be playing his third World Cup, is a senior pro now and when he speaks his words carry weight. Like some of his peers and contemporaries, he says the India team is a good mix of youth and experience and has more than one match-winner.
“The team can now bank on not only seniors, but also on (Virat) Kohli, (Yusuf) Pathan and (Suresh) Raina who can win matches on their own,” Harbhajan said in an interview.
“Even bowling has bite with Zaheer (Khan), (Ashish) Nehra and Munaf (Patel) at their best. They can change the course of a match with incisive spells. That is a big plus for the team.”
“The confidence levels are sky-high as we have performed well in the last three years and showed we can fight till the last ball.”
As for the group games in the Feb19-April 2 event, the off-spinner picked the opening match against Bangladesh as crucial as they had knocked India out of the last World Cup in the Caribbean at the preliminaries stage.
“The first match will be important and will set the tone for the rest of the tournament. We are not taking any team lightly and none is a favourite. Last time there was little chance to stage a comeback after losing the first match, but there are no such fears in this World Cup,” Harbhajan maintained.
Harbhajan’s role, too, has changed in the last four years. Besides being one of the seniors, he is the lone established spinner with the other two being newcomer Ravichandran Ashwin and and comeback man Piyush Chawla. The turbanator is aware of this responsibility but maintains that he will not try do anything fancy in the tournament and will bowl according to the situation.
“This is my third World Cup and I am more experienced now. My target is to take wickets and bowl as the situation demands. There is no new ball that I will experiment with nor am I going to bowl any magic ball,” said the Jalandhar lad, who went wicketless in the last edition and is keen on turning things around this time.
Harbhajan has turned into a reliable lower-order batsman and has gained recognition as a bowling all-rounder. His back-to-back hundreds against New Zealand and then crucial knocks in South Africa were solid efforts.
“Bhajji,” as he is fondly called, credits Gary Kirsten for the improvement in his batting, but insists bowling remains his top priority.
“I owe a lot to Gary for the improvement in my batting. He tirelessly throws balls in the nets and he works with players on a one-on-one basis, attending to every individual player’s needs. That is the stamp of a quality coach. For all my batting exploits, I consider myself a bowler, who is keen to contribute with the bat when required,” Harbhajan said.
The biggest cricketing extravaganza is being played on the low and slow wickets in the sub-continent, where part-timers spinners can also revel. Harbhajan sees this a big advantage for India as Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan and Suresh Raina are much more than mere back-up spinners.
“The wickets will get slower as the tournament progresses. You have to have variation in your attack. You just need to be sure of what you are doing. The part-timers will play a big role.”
Harbhajan is fine with the World Cup schedule, unlike England’s Kevin Pietersen who is unhappy with it.
“As for the schedule, it has no bearing on our preparation and in any case there is no point cribbing about it. If the gap between the matches is less, then someone will complain of not getting adequate rest and when there is a week between the matches, they still grumble,” said Harbhajan.
The World Cup is returning to India after 15 years and there is bound to be some pressure playing at home, but Bhajji, just like his captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, sees it as an added responsibility.
“There is no additional pressure on us just because we are playing at home. It is a responsibility.
“It is the biggest tournament for any cricketer. Everyone expects us to win. Wherever I go, I am asked whether we can win the Cup. We can only get motivated by the enthusiasm among fans.”