Harbhajan has been one of the fiercest cricketers and biggest match-winners for India in the last two decades. He is a character any team would love to have in the dressing room. Moments after announcing his retirement, he spoke to TOI and looked back at his career.
You have been part of the generation which transformed the way cricket is played in India. How do you look back?
To have made it this far from the place that I have come from, there’s not much to regret. I am grateful to this beautiful game, my guru ji and family. Indian cricket has evolved dramatically and is in a different league now. I am very happy that I could contribute to how cricket in India is played. I am thankful to BCCI and the Punjab Cricket Association. BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah were kind enough to call me up today. I wouldn’t have been able to become an India cricketer if it wasn’t for MP Pandove.
I am so grateful that I got to play with legends like Anil Kumble, Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid. Besides being great cricketers, these were brilliant human beings. These seniors had a big impact on all the youngsters in the team. We were different kinds of players. I was aggressive but Rahul wasn’t. But we learnt discipline from Dravid. I am lucky to have just met such people.
You said the hat-trick against Australia at Eden Gardens is the most memorable moment of your career. But the Monkeygate incident follows you wherever you go…
Rai ka pahaad bana liya. (They made a mountain out of a molehill). It wasn’t as big an issue as it was made out to be. It was blown out of proportion so much that it is difficult to resolve it even today. People still talk about it and derive fun out of it. Things could have been settled then and there on the field. Maybe it was destined to be in my life.
If I look back, it could have been handled in a better way but the Australian team failed to do that. They were adamant they had to file a complaint. It was all unnecessary. There are a number of things that happen in cricket. That is not the first or the last such incident when foul language was used.
Retirement Announcement: 23 साल का खूबसूरत सफर… अब अलविदा| Harbhajan Turbanator Singh
Indian spinners have always been under pressure to perform overseas…
The spell of 4/10 in Durban in 2010 is very special. I never wanted to leave my team thinking that I am playing just a supporting role. When there’s an opportunity to attack and create pressure then you must do that. I am happy that I could perform not just in India but also in special wins overseas.
The performances in London, Durban, Capetown, Barbados and Hamilton give me great satisfaction. My job was to take wickets and how I can evolve my game to do well in those conditions is a challenge. Every time I went on tours, I was a better bowler.
How difficult was it to motivate yourself when you were dropped after the high of 2011 World Cup win?
I don’t want to get into the kind of pitches I have bowled on. It’s evident who has achieved what on what kind of pitches. When I came back from England tour because of an injury in 2011, I never got an opportunity to play Test cricket despite having got 400 Test wickets. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. Whatever chances I got after that was like a farce. Life is a circle. Whatever you do comes around. Life is much bigger than cricket.
Then you were called back before the 2016 T20 World Cup and didn’t get a game…
First, I wasn’t getting picked despite my performances in IPL. Then suddenly I get selected and don’t get a game on two tours and become a tourist. For someone who has played 100 Tests, it was not the proper way to be treated. If I had seen someone with 100 Tests being treated like this, I would have done things so that the player felt happy and wanted in the team.
I understand that it was difficult to fit me in the XI but then I shouldn’t have been picked. At times, it was frustrating to realise that once I ruled the scene and suddenly I was struggling to get a game.
You played ahead of a legend like Kumble on many occasions…
Anil bhai has been instrumental in shaping my career. Yes, there were a lot of times when I was playing ahead of him but that wasn’t my decision. I wouldn’t have got as many wickets if I hadn’t played alongside Anil bhai. Best quality of Anil Kumble is that he never gave up even as it was clear we were losing a match comfortably. He taught me to keep fighting till the last ball is bowled and in life. People say miracles happen in cricket but it’s not true. People with Anil bhai’s thinking make miracles.
Thank you Jam🤗, @imVkohli 🤗@cheteshwar1 🤗 🙏 Love you guys .. Good luck .. win the series in SA https://t.co/32ZlGUygPh
— Harbhajan Turbanator (@harbhajan_singh) 1640362001000
I would like to stick around this game and do something to give back. I am more than happy to help BCCI and franchises. I am writing a book which will be out in a few months. I would like to contribute to society because whatever I am, it is because of the people.
Better captain: Dhoni or Ganguly?
Sourav Ganguly found me when I was a nobody. By the time Dhoni became captain, I was an established player. Ganguly backed me when I was still a work in progress. He trusted my skills but there wasn’t any certainty if I would perform. But in the case of Dhoni, he knew I had it in me to win matches for him.