Ten years is a long time in today’s hectic world. Ten years have breezed past his life and Harbhajan Singh rightly observes that he has “moved on.”
The 2011 World Cup was a “titanic” feat for players of his generation and only confirmed that it was a class act waiting to happen. It was a team for generations and it was an achievement that came about on the basis of solid preparation and self-belief.
“I know self-belief is a much used term but let me confess it was the mantra for our success. We knew we are going to win the Cup and we did win the Cup. We won the Cup for India. We also won it for Sachin Tendulkar, who was featuring in his final World Cup. And what a night it was at Mumbai,” said Harbhajan on Friday.
Harbhajan had a role to perform to perfection and precision. As a senior bowler, it was his responsibility to hold the fort if the batsmen went on a rampage. He had to dry runs at his end and also make sure the game did not drift away in the middle overs. “I loved my job. It was a challenge and it brought the best out of me. Not to give runs and also to take wickets mean that the batsmen played me cautiously.”
The wily off-spinner had the best economy rate. He was among the seven players who figured in all the nine matches. “I was happy to be an integral part of the campaign even though it came with lot of expectations and pressure. The pressure got to my nerves because people just expected to win the title. We also were keen to win it but our fans were more intense. After all it was just a game and not a matter of life and death. Perform, perform, win, win, was always a factor that sometimes left me scared. What if we did not win? We had to deal with the pressure but how to deal with it was the challenge. It had become a kind of burden for all of us. When we did achieve it came as a huge relief. We had done it.”
The 1983 World Cup winning team was the biggest motivation for Harbhajan. “They were the original heroes who wrote that glorious chapter at Lord’s. They brought laurels and we took strength from that team. We looked up to them and I am glad we carried their legacy forward. The image of Kapil (Dev) paaji holding aloft the Cup was a constant source of motivation. I would wonder if we would ever hold the Cup like him. I could never talk to Kapil paaji on the 1983 World Cup but hearing the stories from others kept us going.”
The tournament progressed as the team had imagined before the semifinal against Pakistan once again put the players under pressure. “It was a high voltage game because of our rivalry. It was also high voltage for us because of the fear of extreme reactions from the fans had we lost.” The challenge of winning the hearts of the fans kept the team on its toes and India pulled off a remarkable win with Harbhajan striking two blows at the right time.
At 142 for four, Pakistan was placed comfortably when Harbhajan struck with the first ball after the drinks break by castling Umar Akmal. “I went around the stumps and he was bowled in trying to play me to midwicket. The ball kept its angle and hit the off-stump. It was tough to bowl with a wet ball,” recalled Harbhajan.
His best wicket came when Shahid Afridi was foxed by a full toss. “Afridi likes to play aggressively. Doesn’t believe in ones and twos. I concentrated on not letting him play the big shots and he fell in the trap. When Viru (Sehwag) took the skier at cover I knew the game was as good as over with Afridi’s wicket.”
The final saw Harbhajan claim the wicket of Tillakaratne Dilshan as India won in style. “Lifting the Cup was unbelievable and our celebrations lasted until the morning. I did not take off the medal all that time. It had been hard-earned."
Sadly, the playing XI of that World Cup final never again played together. The National selectors made many changes. How was it justified? The answers never came. Harbhajan played three more matches that year and seven more when he returned to the team in 2015. Ironically, his final ODI for India came against South Africa at the Wankhede Stadium, the venue that saw him live a dream in 2011. “It was sad the way I went but fond memories of the World Cup win helped me move on,” said Harbhajan.
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