Harbhajan Singh, who bowled India to memorable victories against the Aussies, looks at the India-Australia series.
Few cricketers could rile the Australians as much as Harbhajan Singh did — on a cricket field or off it.
The feisty Sardar seemed to reserve his best for the Aussies. His hat-trick in that historic Test in Kolkata in March 2001 will always be etched in Indian cricket memories.
Harbhajan played 18 Tests against Australia, taking 95 wickets, which included five-wicket in an innings seven times. Thrice he claimed 10 wickets in a Test.
He exploited Australia’s weakness against spin to the fullest, dismissing Ricky Ponting 10 times in Tests — the most by any bowler, including five times in the 2001 series. He also accounted for Matthew Hayden nine times.
As Steve Smith’s side get ready for a testing four match series in India, Rediff.com‘s Harish Kotian caught up with the great off-spinner on the sidelines of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in Mumbai where he is captaining the North Zone team.
What is your prediction for the series?
If Australia play well, then India will win 3-0, and mind you that is only if Australia play well, otherwise it will be a 4-0 whitewash.
Can this Australian bowling attack stop Virat Kohli?
The form he is in currently, it is going to be hard for them to stop Virat.
They will either have to plan to get him out early because if he gets his eye in then he is going to score big runs, which has been the case in the last 12 months.
Kohli is a class player, he is mature, he is responsible and he is taking the team forward.
You can see the batting shining under him.
It’s been nearly 13 years since Australia won in India, what do they need to do to triumph in India?
Australia will have to play at their best, but I don’t think the wickets are going to be that easy for their batsmen to play against spin.
Australia will need to bowl better than our spinners because the wickets are obviously going to help the spinners.
This is what I feel after watching the last two series in India. I think the wickets are very good for spinners.
Any team that is touring India, if they have to do well, their spinners will have to do better than what Indian spinners do.
I don’t think this Australian team has the quality to do so.
You played a lot under Sourav Ganguly and you also played under Virat Kohli. Do you notice any similarities?
Kohli sets an example for others to follow. He works really hard in the game, his work ethic is second to none.
He gets up early, he trains hard, he does everything professionally and that is the secret of his success.
There is a system where you need to be extremely disciplined and he is doing that superbly.
That is what Kohli has changed in the last 3 or 4 years.
Dada (Ganguly) was a different captain, it was a different era. Back then people were not as much into fitness as what it is now.
Dada commanded a lot of respect just like Kohli, because he set the trend for others to follow.
People want to be like him or play like him.
If you speak to the younger players like K L Rahul and others, they will say they want to be like Virat.
Virat will not miss his diet, he will not missing his gym session, he will not miss his batting session.
Even in the practice session if he needs to run he will run, he will do everything in practice that he needs to.
That is why he is as successful as he has been so far.
How do you compare this Australian team to the ones you played before, in 2001, 2004 and 2007?
This is a weaker team than what Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting brought to India.
Those Australian teams had the will and belief to win in India. I don’t think this team has the belief to win in India and that is the only difference I will say.
(Matthew) Hayden, (Adam) Gilchrist, (Ricky) Ponting, (Damien) Martyn, they were all top class batters, even Michael Clarke.
If I have to go through this team then apart from David Warner and Steve Smith I don’t think they will be able to play the game they play in Australian conditions — it is going to be a tough series for them.
You had a great rivalry against Matthew Hayden, whom you dismissed quite often in Test matches, but he also got a lot of runs in Indian conditions.
How do you compare him to David Warner who also has a similar mindset of attacking bowlers?
Warner likes to attack, but the wickets won’t allow him to attack.
Hayden did attack when the pitches were really good to bat on.
Those days the wickets were different to bat on, the match would always go deep into Day 5, but nowadays the matches finish in three or four days.
If the ball starts spinning from the first ball I don’t think they will survive for long.
Why do Australia spinners struggle in Indian conditions despite bowling on spin-friendly wickets?
It is different bowling in Indian conditions as compared to bowling in Australia.
The speed is different here. The Australian spinners will have to adjust to that speed.
You don’t get that purchase in Australia, but here you get a lot of purchase, so from the first ball you need to bowl that correct speed which not many spinners have done in India for the last 15 years.
Only Monty Panesar and Grame Swann did it during that series in 2012.
Tell us about that series in 2001 when India made a superb comeback, against all odds, after losing the first match, then following on in the second Test.
What made that unbelievable comeback possible against the world conquering Australian team?
I would say belief.
It was the best series I was involved in.
All the games went down to the last minute, that shows the quality of pitches, the quality of cricket was really high.
That’s the way it should be — Test cricket should go into the fifth day, competing hard right into the final session.
That is what Test cricket is all about, it will test you not just physically, but also mentally.
The Australians are known to sledge the opposition and get under their skin. Will this tactics work against Virat Kohli and his team?
I don’think sledging has ever been a factor in a game.
If they want to sledge, they better be prepared for a lot of stuff from this Indian side because this Indian team — not just Kohli — they are not going to sit back and listen.
So, good luck to Australia if at all they want to play it that way.