There’s an intriguing thing that Harbhajan Singh tells you about Ambati Rayudu, with whom he shared the dressing room for a decade while playing for the Mumbai Indians till last year, before both moved to the Chennai Super Kings this season.
“He’s an introvert. He doesn’t mingle with people too much. When I was with MI, I hardly saw him outside the ground. Can you believe it that he doesn’t even have a phone! There’s a hindi film dialogue na: Don ko dhundna mushkil hi nahin, namumkin hai (it’s not just difficult, but impossible to find Don). The same applies to Rayudu!,” chuckles the veteran off-spinner, while promoting his show ‘Bhajji Blast’.
He also reveals the reason why his other CSK teammate, left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, isn’t celebrating after taking a wicket in this edition of the IPL. “He says I don’t celebrate IPL wickets. This time, he just shakes his head, and mutters: ‘ho gaya chal (it’s done).” Having played for India and in the IPL for two high-profile teams for two decades in an epic career which saw him pick 417 wickets in 103 Tests, the tweaker with loads of sense of humour knows most of the secrets and quirky habits of India’s top cricketers. He also tells you what he still doesn’t know yet but is curious to find out: “The night when we were celebrating our World Cup triumph in 2011, MS Dhoni suddenly went to his room, and came back like ‘shakaal’ (a popular villainous character from the movie Shaan). He didn’t go to any barber to shave off his head. I still don’t know why he did it.”
‘Bhajji,’ though, has plenty of respect for his CSK and former India captain. Has Dhoni answered his critics in this IPL, you ask him. Has he sealed any argument around his place till the World Cup next year? “The World Cup is still very far. This (the IPL) is a different tournament and format. People will continue to question Dhoni. You can’t stop them, but Dhoni’s still a class, world champion player. He’s been India’s best ODI player. We don’t need to talk about his performances, let his bat do that. He’s a legend of Indian cricket,” praises the 37-year-old.
The entire country seems to be sweating over a neck injury to India skipper Virat Kohli, which forced the batting star to miss his much-hyped maiden stint in county cricket (with Surrey), and even puts his availability for the England tour in slight doubt. Harbhajan, however, feels that this blow could be a ‘blessing in disguise’ for the 29-year-old.
“He should be fine. It (the injury) isn’t that’s serious. There’s a lot of time (for the England tour, which begins in July). It’s good that he’s not playing county cricket, because he needs rest to recover (from his injury). It could be a blessing in disguise. He’ll be much better prepared for the bigger things than playing county cricket. And I’m sure he’s still a good player without county cricket,” he says, before telling you about how taxing the IPL can be on the players. “The IPL is a hectic tournament. You travel so much, and play every second-third day. It looks very glamorous on TV, when you see fours and sixes being hit. But in the end, its’ tough (on the players). You’ve to pack, unpack and check out, check in of hotels all the time. There’s no time to rest. All the players feel that there should be a 15-day break after the IPL.”
How does he rate India’s chances in England this summer. “It’s a great opportunity (to win a Test series in England). This team has the potential to do it. It won’t be easy, though. It will take a lot of hard work, but this team has the ability to do so. It’s a long tour. Keeping that in mind, (our) fitness has to be at the top level. The bowlers will have to bowl a lot of overs. Whenever we tour, we feel we’ve the team to win abroad. But in the end, it all depends on how the wickets will be, whether our fast bowling unit will be fit at that time. A lot will depend on whether guys like Virat and KL (Rahul) will bat at their best. So, it’s about the form of the players at that point,” he feels.
He admits it was tough to don the CSK jersey and play his ex-side MI in the opening game of this IPL itself. “It was a mixed feeling. I was like, ‘What am I doing in the (rival) dressing room. And my (jersey) colour is suddenly yellow. This is different.’ When that game got over, I was like ‘Thank God, it was the first match!.” By now, though, he’s more at ease in the CSK dugout. “After that, it’s been a great journey, coming from one great team to another. Luckily, things didn’t change too much. I was playing in the IPL final there (with MI), and now here too!”
The prospect of playing another IPL final, this time for CSK though, has left the offie “excited.” “As the game comes closer, you get nervous. But we’ll win for sure.” “Before the IPL auction this year, I’d said that whichever team ‘buys’ me, will win the IPL. And look, CSK are on the verge of winning the trophy!” he grins.