“As the world gears up for the much-awaited ICC World Cup 2019, ace Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh shares his fondest memories of the tournament, his expectations from the Virat Kohli-led Indian squad and why Air India holds a special place in his heart”
The ICC World Cup begins soon. How excited are you?
It’s quite exciting. I hope Team India will play well and bring home the cup for all of us. I wish the team all the best. [The ICC World Cup will be held in England and Wales from May 30, 2019]
What are the chances of the Indian team lifting the trophy?
India is a very strong team and it has a very good chance to lift the cup.
Who are the Indian players fans should look out for?
Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Jasprit Bhumrah and Rohit Sharma.
Which team, do you think, is India’s strongest opponent?
England is the current top-ranking oneday international team that is rated as the bookmakers’ favourite to win. But I also think defending champion Australia has a good chance. Interestingly, India, that is placed second in the ICC one-day ranking, is the only team to have broken Australia’s dominance!
What are the strengths of the Indian team going for the World Cup?
I think batting is our [Team India] strength and we need our bowlers to do well. We have Jasprit Bhumrah and two very good wrist spinners who, I believe, have the capability to stop any team.
What about the team’s batting order?
There has been considerable thought about the batting order especially the number four position, for which I feel KL Rahul is the best choice.
This time each team will play nine games in the league stage. How different is the format from the previous world cups?
It’s a very interesting format in which few every team plays with one another and the best four enter the knockout stage. But honestly, if you want to win the World Cup, no matter what format it’s going to be, you have to beat all the teams.
What are some of your fondest World Cup memories?
Lifting the World Cup in 2011 was the best moment. [Singh was a part of the Indian team that won the World Cup in 2011]
How different was it to play under the captaincy of Sourav Ganguly and MS Dhoni in world cups?
Both Ganguly and Dhoni were fantastic captains for India. While on one hand, Ganguly believed in attacking and showed everyone how we can win abroad. Dhoni, on the other, is very calm and composed, and a man of few words. Both of them were great captains and it was a wonderful experience being captained by both the players.
Tell us about 2019 IPL. Which player impressed you the most?
I enjoyed being there for my team, and bowling the most difficult overs in power play was very satisfying. I enjoyed watching Rishab Panth [Delhi Capitals] bat and Deepak Chahar [Chennai Super Kings] bowl. [Singh was a part of Chennai Super Kings that lost to Mumbai Indians by one run in the final]
Who is your favourite cricketer currently and why?
Virat Kohli, because he is simply the best batsman and more than that, his hunger to perform and get better everyday is outstanding. I just love watching him bat!
How has Air India supported you as a player and a person?
I can’t thank Air India enough for what it has done for me. I was not an international player when I was offered a job with Air India on October 26, 1999. My salary of ` 8,000, was the only security I had. The airline gave me the support I needed to invest time in bettering my game. It was the security I had, to go out and play for the country. Thank you Air India, again!
What is your message for youngsters who aspire to pursue sports as a career?
They just need to work hard, improve themselves and not lose hope. A budding sportsperson needs support from people around. With the right amount of help from the state, India can become a great sporting nation. There’s a lot of talent in our country but sadly there is not much infrastructure that supports sports. That should be improved. The 2019 World Cup is being held in England and Wales.
What are your favourite places in London?
I love London and my favourite food joint there is Sadaf at Bayswater. It’s not a finedining restaurant but the food is delicious.
What are your future plans?
My plan is to play till the time I can, in whichever form of the game possible. I am also involved in coaching youngsters.