Mumbai: Relieved to be picked in the Indian Test squad for the series against Australia, offspinner Harbhajan Singh on Sunday said he cannot wait to bowl against his "favourite team".
The 32-year-old, who has 408 wickets in 99 Tests, was on Sunday included in the 15-member squad for the first two Tests starting February 22 in Chennai. It was double delight for the offspinner, who also led Rest of India to the Irani Cup title against Ranji champions Mumbai.
"I am very happy and feeling very relieved after getting selected. This game was very important for me. I bowled very well and have got the opportunity to play against my favourite team. I am looking forward to it," Harbhajan said at the post-match presentation ceremony. Struggling for a while, Harbhajan was impressive in the Irani Cup, picking up five wickets in the match. He has been a proven performer against Australia and has a reputation of getting to the nerves of the players from Down Under.
Singh reckons that comebacks are always "tough at Test level" but the veteran of 99 Tests is hopeful that he would be able to make a difference in the upcoming Test series against Australia. "Comebacks are always tough. As long as you continue to work hard and believe you can make a difference and do well in international cricket, you can make a comeback," Harbhajan told mediapersons at the post-match conference of the Irani Cup. "I am very happy to be back in the Test squad and hopefully, I can make the difference there," said Harbhajan, whose last Test before this series was against England at the Wankhede Stadium.
Harbhajan, who has been pretty good at playing mindgames, said that a number of left-handers in the opposition squad could work to India's advantage. "It's always nice to play against Australia. They have a pretty new batting line-up. If I am not wrong they have a lot of left-handers, apart from (Michael) Clarke and (Shane) Watson and they have not played much Test cricket and not played in India. This would be a challenging series for them and hopefully we will put them under pressure from the first day of the Test match."
Having been out in the wilderness for the better part of the last 18 months, Harbhajan said that he has been working very hard on his game at the domestic level. "When you are playing Ranji Trophy constantly sometimes you may take wickets and sometimes you may not. But I have been working very hard on my game and trying to give everything I have every day. A new day gives you a new opportunity. That's what I have kept telling myself that I am still good enough to play for India and that's the reason I have been playing cricket."
The 32-year-old is confident that the bowlers chosen for the first two Tests would deliver the goods against the Australian team against whom he has a splendid record in India. "Overall, all the bowlers need to bowl well to take those 20 wickets. When I played my first series against Australia (2001-02), I was a no one. All I can say is we have a quality attack to win this Test series for India. If we are able to do that, it will be a great thing. We are looking forward to this series and hopefully we would do well as a bowling unit."
He also feels that Delhi opener Shikhar Dhawan deserved a break. "Of course, Shikhar is a fine player and has got lot of runs. I am very happy for him. That he is there in the squad means that he has done well to be here," said Harbhajan about Rest of India teammate Dhawan's selection. Harbhajan feels that Irani Cup is one of the best platforms to make a comeback in the national reckoning. "Obviously, we play this game so that we can represent India. It (Irani Cup) is an important game for me, as well as my team-mates. These kinds of games give you the platform to do well and get back into the Indian team. I am very happy that I have done well and am back in the Test squad. It is great to be part of Test side and make a difference there."
About the Irani game, Harbhajan said his team batted and bowled well in the first innings and reaped the rewards. "It was important for us to bowl well in the first innings after getting the runs (526). We know Mumbai has strong batting line-up. We bowled well and got the lead and after that they had only one chance to come back, if they could have taken early wickets but it did not happen."
The Rest of India skipper was all praise for Ambati Rayudu, Murali Vijay and Suresh Raina, who scored centuries. "We batted very well. (Ambati) Rayudu was brilliant, so was (Suresh) Raina in both innings and (Murali) Vijay and Shikhar (Dhawan) up front in the first innings. It was a very good game for all the Rest of India boys. Am very proud to be part of this winning team."
The spinner had taken 32 wickets against the Aussies in the memorable 2001 series.