Dainik Jagran || Veteran Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh on Friday retired from all forms of cricket. Harbhajan, who played for Punjab in domestic cricket, made his international debut in 1998 against New Zealand in Sharjah. He took 32 wickets in the three-Test series against Australia in March 2001. During this he became the first Indian bowler to take a hat-trick in Test cricket.
He played his last international match as a T20 match against the United Arab Emirates in Dhaka in March 2016. After that he played in the IPL continuously, but Team India could not make his comeback. He is sorry that the reason for his ouster was never given and regrets that he was not given a chance to retire from cricket while playing in the field. After the announcement of retirement, Abhishek Tripathi had a special conversation with Harbhajan Singh on his career and other issues. Here are the main excerpts:-
What was the reason for taking so long to retire?
- This was going on in my mind for many years. Don’t know how the time has passed, but now it has been taken.
Now what is the road map for the future, because you also do films and there was talk of you coming into politics and coaching in an IPL team, so what is your plan?
- Some such future plans I have not decided yet, but let’s see what God has in store for us in the future. The one who has brought us this far will definitely show some way in the future also. There are many things to do if you want to do it, but I am very thankful that I have been able to do so much in cricket. I would like to continue to be associated with cricket in whatever way it is, whether it is in the form of coaching or as a mentor. Because of the cricket I am today, I would like to give something back to cricket if I can spend time with the young players and teach them something.
In recent times, instead of playing on the field, many big cricketers of India have retired in this way, is it not better that you retire from the field or it was your own decision that I will play IPL like this and when I have to retire, will I?
- Yes, the decision was mine as to when to take sannyas and when not. If I wanted to, like every cricketer, it would have been better if I had retired from the field, but it did not happen. It is said that you do not get everything in life, no matter how hard you try.
Just now Ashwin had also said that there had come a time in his life when he felt that he should retire, or he was not getting that kind of support, then never before had there ever been such a turning point in cricket in your life. Come, when you thought it was enough?
- As long as there is support, it feels great. I would say that if the support had come at the right time, I would have taken 500-550 wickets long ago, because when I was 31 years old I had taken 400 wickets and if I had played for three-four more years I would have taken 500- Would have taken 550 wickets. But, all that did not happen. There are so many reasons for that, if we go into that, we will dig up a lot of things, which I don’t want to do. After 2001-02, support was not needed at all, support was needed only after taking 400 wickets and if even a 400 wicket taker needs support, then I do not know how much we take care of our players.
- Huh. There comes a time when you must give your players the respect they deserve. But some class of people decide how to keep them. But I would like to say that after 2001-02 the support that Sourav Ganguly gave to me, there was no such need for support, but in 2012, when support was needed and it was found, then my career would have been better and I would have taken 550 wickets. Lekar would have left cricket long ago.
Will you regret being the number two bowler after Kumble?
- I don’t mind whether I should be number two or number 10. This number is only in your mind. I am just happy that I could play and contribute to the Indian team for so many years. To express regret, I will continue to say that it did not go well, it did not go well, but many things have been right. I am lucky that God made me worthy that I could play for such a long time. Playing 100 Test matches is a big deal. My aim was to become the Indian bowler to play 100 Tests, so he did. There are many things left that you cannot do, but life is not just cricket. There is much more to be done ahead of this.
But, you once said in Kapil Sharma’s show, when you were a judge and Srikkanth was there, you said you fired when I was doing well?
- Of course, no 400 wickets are obtained by bowling poorly. When someone takes 400 wickets. If he did not get a chance to play or he was not told why he was thrown out, then many big questions were in my mind, which no one answered. I tried to get in touch with many people, from the selectors to everyone, but then no one told me why I was dropped. Now the person taking 400 wickets will not go before the selectors and ask why I am not being selected, answer me why I am not being selected. Have I suddenly lost my appearance or my bowling has deteriorated or what has happened that you are not choosing me at all. There was no answer to this. And if this can happen to the 400 wicket taker, then no one will ask the 40 wicket taker. This is a sad story of Indian cricket, where one who has achieved something, if it is not needed, then later no one even talked to him properly.
Even after that, when years passed, did you get the answer or not?
- We did not even try to ask again the answers we were to meet, because the time that has passed will never come back. Now when those people who were in that position now they meet saying that all, we made a mistake then. Someone told that there was pressure on us, we could not do it. Well, you didn’t when you could, so all that is of no use now. All my life is not going to change now. Yes, your decision definitely changed my life, which you took then. The 400-wicket-taker didn’t need to spread his hand in front of anyone and I didn’t even understand. I was selected later in T20 as well, so despite that I was only a tourist in the last three series, so that thing is of no use. After 2011-12, things turned different for me. Although I was performing consistently in the IPL, I was never picked in the team and when I was picked up, I was not even fed. I don’t know what the reason is, but it’s okay, whatever happened is good. I am happy that what I have achieved, I have made a place in life, I am grateful to BCCI for giving me these opportunities, if BCCI had not given me chances, I would not have been at this stage.
When you left, Ashwin came, but Ashwin recently said that he was very sad when Ravi Shastri said that Kuldeep is our number one spinner abroad, he liked it when Ashwin was playing in your place But when Kuldeep started coming in place of Ashwin, he started feeling bad?
- It is not a matter of who is playing and who is not. Everyone tries to play, they get a chance. But there is a player who has proved himself and there is a new player. If the experienced player does not go out, how will the new player come? But the method should be fine. What Ashwin has achieved, he felt bad about Kuldeep coming in, that is a different matter for him, I don’t know what went into his mind, but when I was coming taking wickets for so many years, my performance was not so bad That I don’t get a place in my team. And that’s not the fault of any player. Everyone wants a player to get a chance, be it Ashwin or me or Kuldeep or whoever it is. What they think the team management, selectors or office bearers seems to matter.
You said that Ganguly gave you a lot of support, so that you move forward, but questions were being raised on Ganguly about what is going on in BCCI, how do you see Ganguly as captain and as BCCI president?
- It is my retirement day, as far as I know Ganguly, he is a very clean person. He is a solid person. He is a person who believes in unity. The credit for the change in the map of Indian cricket goes to him. After the match-fixing scandal, people lost faith in cricket, but the way he led the team and the kind of team he built, it shows what a person he is capable of. He is the kind of person who will stand up for you and talk when you need to. It is not only in my case, but even today I see that he is amazing. I will always be indebted to him.
How do you look at the 2001 series against Australia and when did you realize that you changed from Bhajji to Harbhajan and Turbanator?
- The same series was such that my career might have ended, but the same series made my career. That series made me Sonu of Jalandhar to Harbhajan Singh. Before that people did not know me. Just knew that he can bowl a little bit of off-spin, have played six-seven Test matches. I didn’t win any match, but when you win matches, you get recognized and you have to perform to make your mark. If you don’t perform, no one will ask.
Even if there was a dispute with you, whether it was with Sreesanth or Andrew Symonds or Shoaib Akhtar, then it used to happen or did he ever regret it?
- sorry only one the dispute with Sreesanth that happened over the thing should not have happened. What happened then was wrong on my part, I don’t think I should have acted in that tone. Other than that, I don’t regret anything, be it Shoaib Akhtar or Andrew Symonds. I know it doesn’t matter what people say.
So now we talk to Sreesanth or not?
- It happens a lot, I meet Sreesanth many times.
Just now during the World Cup, some Pakistani cricketers had tweeted, so did you give a correct answer?
- What the world says, what not, now they are Pakistani cricketers, they feel that they are saying something, then first they should see their home. What have you done yourself in cricket and what are you talking about. The one who neither speaks nor listens to wrong is Harbhajan Singh, I stand for the truth.
You played cricket with almost all the great cricketers of India in your era, be it Sachin Tendulkar, Saurabh Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble, Mahendra Singh Dhoni or later Virat Kohli, then How do you look at this period? How did you get the benefit of playing with them all?
- What benefit was I to get from them? What he was doing for Team India, I was also doing the same thing, but they were all great players. Also, all the boys who were with me, whether it was Virender Sehwag or Yuvraj, we all had a good rapport and we meet even today. It was not that I had to take advantage of him or that he had to take advantage of me. Everyone had the same goal that India has to win the match.
Who did you get on with the most?
- There is hardly any person with whom I do not get along. Talking to Yuvraj, Ashish Nehra, Sachin Paaji, Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer or all the young players, no one will say that Harbhajan was not fun with. Everyone would say that it was fun with them.
Who is your favorite cricketer?
- Sachin Tendulkar, Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne, Anil Kumble, Steve Wa are some of the players who have been my all time favourites.
Is there anything left that you wish I could have done?
- I wished that I could retire wearing India jersey and play matches and my kids would have enjoyed watching me play on the field, but if some things don’t happen then there is a reason for that too. But, I have always believed that other things get better too. Life is not just cricket. Cricket has given us a life and we have to do it better.
How do you see the Virat and Ganguly affair that is going on in Indian cricket right now and how would you deal with these things?
- Look, many stories are coming in this, Ganguly is saying that we talked, Virat is saying that I have not spoken. I don’t know what the real thing is. Till the time the real matter is not known, I cannot comment on it, but I would like to say that it could have been resolved without taking it to the media. There was no need to build a mountain of rye. Who gives news to the media? Disputes arise only when there is a communication gap and perhaps there is a communication gap. I think this can be solved better.
I will join the same party where you will get freedom to work
- When Harbhajan was asked about joining politics, he said that till now I do not know what I will do, but people have given me a lot of love, whether it is on the field or off the field. I am who I am today because of people, because of BCCI, because of cricket, so I have to do something, whether it is by going into politics or going to cricket, where I can help people or cricketers. If I can help, I will definitely go, but when the time comes. I will not delay that, because I took too long to retire from cricket. I do not know where to go, but where to go where I have the freedom to work.
When he was asked that you had just tweeted Pushkar Dhami and he had tweeted yours and you also met Sidhu?
- So on this he said that look, all are knowledgeable, all brothers and sisters are friends. It is election time, with which we will see, people will say whether he is going to this party or is going to that party. But the day I take such a decision, I will announce it myself. I don’t want to put you or anyone in doubt. Look, we know everyone, whether they are from BJP or Congress or AAP, so with whom we meet or if a photo is taken, then people will feel that they have joined the party, but it is not so. The day I will myself I will tell you all that I am going to do this work and for that I need your love and prayers.
Harbhajan Singh’s cricket career
format, matches, wickets, average, best: Test- 103, 417, 32.46, 8/84 ODI- 236, 269, 33.36, 5/31 T20- 28, 25, 25.32, 4/12