Pune, February 21: The tormentor of many an Australian sides, Harbhajan Singh has spelt doom again for the Aussies. This time with his prediction that even if Steve Smith’s team plays at its best, they are going to lose the four-Test series 0-3. The turbanator was speaking at the inaugural session of sports literary festival Xolo SporTale. He also has some advice for India. Play on the wickets that may last five days, if India were to become the world champions in true sense.
Just as India and Australia begin their 4-match cricket Test series with the opening match starting here on Thursday, Harbhajan branded the Steven Smith-led team as the weakest side from Down Under to have represented Australia. “This is the weakest Aussie side. There are no Waghs, no Gilchrist, no Hayden or Ponting and McGrath. That was the champion team who dominated the world, won three World Cups,” said Harbhajan during the conversation “Driven: The Virat Kohli Story”.
Organised by InsideSport, the two-day Xolo SporTale is featuring legendry cricketers like Sunil Gavaskar, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Australian Author Gideon Haigh and Shane Warne.
Discussing Virat Kohli, his talent and struggle to reach where he is now, Harbhajan shared insight into what the cricketer is and how his leadership would help India beat the visiting Australian side. “That Australia in the past had 11 champion players. Everyone had the ability to take on the opposition and win matches from difficult situations,” Harbhajan said.
The off-spinner who had several run-ins with Australia during his hay days adds further that “This is a namesake Aussie side. Apart from Steve Smith and David Warner, I don’t even know any other cricketer. They have four spinners in the side considering they came to play in India and if they play bad, they will lose 4-0”.
Harbhajan has a word of advise for the Indian camp, too. “If India have to win overseas, they need to prepare the wickets which can last five days. Finishing the Games in three days is not good cricket. The game must get into the fifth day. There you fight to take wickets and then you win. That will make you the team that can win on all wickets, on all surfaces,” Harbhajan quipped.
Harbhajan said Kohli showed his caliber very early in his career, but he had to struggle a lot to get into the team.
“Once the IPL came around, it was Lalchand Rajput who suggested us to have Kohli in for Mumbai Indians, but somehow it didn’t happen and Royal Challengers Bangalore snapped him and see how he has bloomed out there,” Harbhajan said.
Calling Kohli his younger brother, Harbhajan said that the Indian captain needed to win on English and Australian pitches to get into the cricketing space that he deserves.
“Virat (Kohli) is a very intense cricketer. He likes to take on the responsibility and expects the same from his team. That has really worked well and the team has performed beyond expectations,” he said.
When it is Virat, you cannot avoid comparison with Sachin Tendulkar. Harbhajan said they played in different eras and faced different bowlers and comparison would be unfair. “Still I would place Sachin Tendulkar higher than Kohli because the kind of bowlers he faced were better than what they are now,” said Harbhajan and mentioned that the standard of bowling has fallen over the years.
“Overall cricketing standards have gone down over the years (since T20 began taking lead). In a T20 match a team takes 4-5 wickets in 10 overs and then expect the same in a One-Day match. On English pitches one has to wait for maybe 30-35 overs to get two wickets,” said Harbhajan reminding that the players needed to change their approach to the game according to the place they are playing.
In the session of narrating cricket’s unheard of tales, Harbhajan revealed that Virat is the greatest of the pranksters in the team. “He only knows masti, other than cricket. If he were a stand-up comedian, he would beat Kapil Sharma hands down.
The turbanator, working on his fitness as he still eyes for a place in Team India for 2019 World Cup, also confessed that he is a great fan of Virat’s passion for fitness. “Others might be following Baba Ramdev (for fitness), but I follow Kohli,” Harbhajan said.
Harbhajan was of the opinion that boundary lines have shortened with the influx of T20 matches, specially with the Indian Premier League (IPL). “You want to have cheer girls along the boundary line. It is fine, but you should create a space for them somewhere else. Boundary line should go further back because nowadays even a mishit goes for a six, which is killing the spin bowling,” said Harbhajan.
“Spinners are not getting anything to go for. We need to create good pitches. Test matches need to go on for five days to give spinners their due time to perform,” Harbhajan said.
Asked about his playing days as an India player, Harbhajan said his time in Indian team under Sourav Ganguly was best that he had.
“We began to challenge the best teams in the world and scored wins too. This is something that was carried forward to successive teams. So what Virat Kohli has at hand is a task that is achievable given the kind of aura this team has created over the last few seasons,” said Harbhajan.
Harbhajan and Mathew Hayden of Australia together are remembered more for the infamous “Monkeygate” scandal, but the off-spinner showed great regard for the Aussie as a batsman.
“Hayden was a class player. He always wanted to dominate and he was tough to bowl to. Though I got him out quite a few times, but by then he was already batting on 100-odd runs,” said Harbhajan.
Harbhajan was also quick to remind that it was the Indian team led by Sourav Ganguly in which he was one of the key members, which stopped that champion Australian side. “We were the one who stopped them (Australia) then and this team led by Kohli has same kind of ambition and calibre to do it and given the composition of Aussie team that has come to India it is very much achievable,” said Harbhajan.