Offspinner Harbhajan Singh believes he has done enough to merit a comeback to the India side for the Champions Trophy next month.
Harbhajan, who will turn 37 in July, last played an ODI for India in October 2015, and his most recent international appearance in any format came over a year ago, against UAE during the 2016 Asia Cup T20. He did well in the Vijay Hazare domestic 50-over competition, claiming nine wickets from six games at four an over and though his performances dipped in the inter-state T20 tournament, he has been excellent in the IPL. Conceding only 5.82 runs per over, Harbhajan has the best economy rate among those who have bowled at least five overs.
“I have played and enjoyed those 15-16 years of top-level cricket, playing with the greats. I am enjoying the IPL and I am looking forward to making a comeback by doing well,” Harbhajan told ESPNcricinfo on the eve of Mumbai Indians’ game against Sunrisers Hyderabad. “If I have to look at myself in the mirror, I will say: ‘Look, you have done what you could have done. Is that enough for you to be selected?’ I would say yes because it’s not just about what I am doing here [in recent times]. I am talking about all these years when I played one-dayers.
“I was called to play against South Africa [in 2015] and I was the [second] highest wicket-taker for India. After that I never played for India in ODIs. I don’t know the reason. In T20s, I have been part of the squad, but never got to play a game. Every year I do well in the IPL and I don’t get into the scheme of things in the last two-three years”.
Harbhajan’s waning fortunes have coincided with the success of fellow offspinner R Ashwin and left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja. Amit Mishra, Axar Patel and Yuzvendra Chahal pushing for back-up spin slots has made it even more challenging for Harbhajan to gain a recall. For the Champions Trophy, Ashwin, who appears certain to recover from the sports hernia that has kept him out of the IPL, and Jadeja are expected to be India’s first-choice spin options. Harbhajan doesn’t mind taking the difficult road back.
“That’s always been there, no? That there is someone in the team and someone coming into the team,” he said. “My competition is with me – how I can better than what I used to do. What other spinners do… good luck to them, well done to them. If X, Y, Z is playing for India, and he is bowling offspin or legspin, if he is good, he should do it. Likewise, if I am good, I am good.”
In picking Yuvraj Singh for the ODI series against England on the back of solid numbers in the Ranji Trophy, the selectors indicated that good performances in first-class cricket would be rewarded. Harbhajan, though, sat the season out and doesn’t regret doing so for it allowed him to soak in the joys of watching his daughter Hinaya Heer grow up.
“Playing four or five games wouldn’t have changed my life. If that has to happen, it will happen even now,” he said. “Whatever level [of cricket] you are playing, you should look to enjoy, and that’s what I have been looking to do over the last year and a half.
“I didn’t play the last season [of first-class cricket] because whatever joy or enjoyment I used to get while I was playing cricket, that joy was in my arms. I thought there’s no need for me to be travelling every four days because this time with my daughter won’t come back again. This is a beautiful time, and I wanted to be there each and every day, each and every moment. Now, she has grown up, and can travel with me.
“It’s not like there has been a drop in my commitment, but now I have reached a stage where I won’t get disappointed even if I am not selected. If I am not selected [for the Champions Trophy], I will be selected for another series. I will be selected somewhere or the other because until that time I will keep knocking the doors. I feel if you keep on performing, you can’t be ignored.”
While Harbhajan admitted it wasn’t easy to motivate himself to go through the grind of domestic cricket, he knew it was his only way to get back into the Indian team.
“You feel that domestic cricket will get easier, you will go there and run through sides just because you played at the international level, but it doesn’t happen that way,” he said. “Even if you are motivated, you still have to push your limits because sometimes these domestic players are better players of spin bowling than what the international players are nowadays.”
He has also assured the selectors of his availability in all forms of cricket. “That’s the reason I am playing all the one-dayers, domestic T20s and now the IPL. If the selectors feel I should be part of [the team], I am ready because I am doing as well as anybody. There is no way I should think that I don’t stand a chance.”
The national selectors will meet on Monday to pick the squad to go to England for the Champions Trophy which starts on June 1. “The selection committee is convening just for me,” Harbhajan joked. “Hopefully I will be there, if not, that’s not the end of the world for me. I am young and doing what everybody else is doing, maybe even better. So why not?”