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India’s pace attack is its best ever says Harbhajan Singh

While his international career ended prematurely than expected, Harbhajan says he doesn't rue it too much at the end of the day.

February 25, 2022 / 08:45 AM IST
Harbhajan Singh had a 23-year-long career in cricket.

Harbhajan Singh had a 23-year-long career in cricket.

Former India spinner Harbhajan Singh who announced his retirement from all forms of cricket recently is now all set to start a new innings. spoke to him extensively on a range of issues.

Q: Are you going to be part of the IPL 2022 in a different role?

Harbhajan: I have just retired from cricket after being on the roads for more than two decades. I have missed a lot of personal and family time but at the same time I am nothing without any association with cricket. So yes, I will be part of the IPL this year in some capacity (coaching/mentorship) or other but definitely no intention of joining any international team since its 12-month job.

Q: Are you satisfied with the fact that you have accomplished something special in your career- a world cup trophy in both T20 and ODI format? Something neither great Anil Kumble nor Ravichandran Ashwin have?

Harbhajan: I can’t be speaking about others but yes, I am very satisfied with my career. I am thankful to all my teams which I have been part of in the past. For me, individual accomplishments don’t mean much but what should matter most is whether our cricket progressed or not. Whether it was Kumble or me or Ashwin, players will come and go but Indian cricket must prosper.


Q: Were you surprised by the comments of former coach Ravi Shastri who reacted sharply after Ashwin’s comment that he wasn’t treated well by the team management?

Harbhajan: When Gary Kirsten joined as head coach of the Indian team, he used to have honest conversations, one on one with all the players. As long as he was the coach, he used to carry everyone along. He would listen, he would counsel, and he would answer all your queries. I really don’t know what has happened (in the dressing room) in recent years that such things are coming out. I don’t know if Ashwin is right or someone is wrong, that is not for me to decide but yes it could have been handled in a better way.

Q: Then same can be said about the Kohli-Ganguly episode? Since you are close to both of them, do you also feel that issue could have been handled in a better way?

Harbhajan: Definitely. The matters which can be resolved easily by sitting together in a room shouldn’t have been allowed to escalate as it did. Perhaps, no one knows who was right or wrong.

Q: Do you think the current pace bowling attack in Test cricket is the best ever in Indian history?

Harbhajan: I completely agree. The young Mohammed Siraj is a superb bowler. Mohammed Shami’s seam position may look even better than the great James Anderson. The England pacer may have got more wickets, but Shami can rival him in this regard and it is a huge compliment. Jasprit Bumrah is a champion bowler and we don’t have to say much about him and Shardul Thakur has performed exceedingly well with ball and bat in the last couple of years. Today, getting 20 wickets isn’t a big challenge for Indian pace attack since most of them are 145kmph plus speed while when we started only Javagal Srinath used to be the pacer.

Q: Former India captain Kohli’s contribution in making this pace attack an all-round unit?

Harbhajan: His mindset was extraordinary. He never wanted to play for draw as he thought that was like the approach of a coward. He always wanted to put pressure on opposition so that you could come closer to victory. The Indian team which now plays in Test always wants to go for win regardless of where they are playing. What Kohli changed was that his team wasn’t just going to play, but to win. He was always there to make things happen. Unbelievable.

Q: So, can we say that even without a global trophy in any format, Kohli  almost made it up with number of wins? That he is the greatest Test captain?

Harbhajan: See, I never get into all this greatest or smallest captain debate. What is important to know is that if he was best in his era.  In that sense, he certainly was. Kapil Dev was a great captain of his time so was Sunil Gavaskar. Same with Ganguly and Dhoni. We should not be comparing them and decide who was the greatest. Rather, we should appreciate all of them that they took India to a different level during their respective reigns.

Q: Do you feel that you could have ended with more international wickets than your final tally of 711 wickets?

Harbhajan: How does it matter now? It could have been anything. 800 maybe. What matters to me is the love and affection I have got from the fans. Yes, I am a bit disappointed that I was side-lined during that phase of 31-35 years which is the best time for a cricketer but I am still very happy with whatever I could achieve for my country.

Q:  You are working on your auto-biograph but isn’t your life-story that is so dramatic and full of twists and turns, that a film can be made on that?

Harbhajan: I feel whoever comes from small town has got a compelling story. Look at the inspirational story of Dhoni. When I was growing up, I wanted to become like Kapil Dev who was from Chandigarh.

Q: Who has been a better off spinner? Grame Swann or Muthiah Muralitharan?

Harbhajan: Murali is the greatest ever. Apart from him, I have an enormous amount of respect for Saqlain Mustaq (former Pakistani player). There was none better than him in the 50 overs cricket. He used to bowl mostly in 45-50 overs and used to take vital wickets without conceding too many runs. Swann comes from England and his success was outstanding too.

Q: Can Ashwin go past Anil Kumble’s 618 Test wickets?

Harbhajan: It depends on his fitness. He may reach 500 or 600 or even 700. But, even if he doesn’t take a single wicket now, he would still be a great because he has taken the game and team forward. He has been one of the best.

Q: What about Nathan Lyon?

Harbhajan: Oh, he has been my favourite of the current generation. The conditions which he faces (for a spinner), I have my salutes for his achievements. He doesn’t have a doosra, no floater or no chalaki cleverness. He beats you in flight. He is your traditional off spinner.

Q: What has been the best and worst memory from your playing career?

Harbhajan: Best memory undoubtedly will always remain the hattrick (against Australia in Eden Garden in 2001) and the 32 wickets haul in that series. That gave me the identity. The T20 World cup win in 2007 and then the unbelievable celebration across India after 2011 win will always remain closest to my heart. The only regret is that we failed to qualify for the next stage in the 2007 World Cup in West Indies.  I am not saying that we should have won that trophy but kind of team we had, at least we should have gone till the semi-finals.

Thanks for your valuable time with us since you are a big man, Bhajji!

Harbhajan: No, no. You have said a wrong thing. I am not a big man. Someone told me the definition of a really big man. Someone with lots of money or fame or designation or power is not a big man. The real big man is someone who won’t ever make you feel small in your company.

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Vimal Kumar is a senior sports journalist who has covered multiple cricket world cups and Rio Olympics in the last two decades. Vimal is also the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.
first published: Feb 25, 2022 08:38 am
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