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Harbhajan, a player to watch out for: Muralitharan

Harbhajan, a player to watch out for: Muralitharan

The spin wizard feels the Indian off-spinner will be a grand success in the future.

Muttiah Muralitharan, the goggle-eyed Sri Lankan spin wizard is statistically the most threatening bowler on the planet. With over 1,000 international wickets in his kitty, he stands tall above celebrated deities of Warne, Kumble, McGrath and Walsh in the pantheon of cricket legends. What really defines him is his competitive outlook towards each game and, of course, the smile at the end of every delivery. Mukesh Kumar catches up with this living legend.

At the age of 36, you are the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket and second highest in ODIs. How do you look back to your cricketing journey of 16 years?

I really don't know how it happened, but its not been an easy journey. I had difficulties but my love for the game made it possible. I could not have asked for more than what I have got. I look back with a lot of satisfaction and of course I am going strong.

You were part of the IPL, but once you were heard saying that IPL is just fun and nothing more than that?

I didn't say IPL is nothing more than fun. It's entertainment and fun for the people to watch. T20 is the future of cricket, and mind you, it's not fun to play T20.

Sachin is gearing up for his milestone (highest aggregate of runs in Tests).You must have planned something out of the box for Sachin?

No, not really, because he knows how I bowl and I know how he plays. Let's see how it turns out to be.

The last time India visited Sri Lanka, you wrecked the Indian batting line up.

I guess I was lucky last time, may be this time too, if I can be lucky then I will be very happy to do so. But the current Indian batting line up is very strong. Sachin, Ganguly, Laxman, Sehwag and there are some young batsmen as well so it will not be easy.

Ajantha Mendis has been a surprise element with batsmen finding it difficult to read his variety of deliveries. The combination of Murali and Mendis is a real threat.

Yeah! We do have a good chance in the Test series because Mendis is a very good bowler. It will not be easy for him and the batsmen as well, because they haven't seen too much of him.

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It's a spin-dominating attack for both the teams with Harbhajan and Kumble and you and Mendis. How do you see the scenario?

It's going to be an interesting battle with both the teams. India have world class quality spin attack of Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. But another important factor is the wickets in Sri Lanka, sometimes it does not help the spinners and in that case the batsmen will dominate.

There has been a lot of talk about Test matches losing their charm. What is the challenge to make it more exciting in terms of IPL?

You can not make the Test Matches as exciting as IPL but you need to preserve the Test matches because it's the real beauty of the game. It tests the true character of any player. In IPL, you have to score in a small span of time and entertain the people. We have spectators who prefer Test matches while majority of the young people like to watch IPL or T20. Test cricket needs no change and it should be left to the people to decide as to which form of cricket they want to watch. If they want entertainment they can watch IPL or T20 while others can watch Test cricket.

Which form of cricket do you enjoy most?

I like Test cricket because it's the hardest form of the game. According to me, it's a challenge to play Test cricket. IPL or even ODIs are easy to play in comparison to Test matches, as it's a number game. In IPL or ODIs some day you perform while some day you fail. But in Test cricket if you are good at cricketing abilities, you are bound to do well. In the shorter version of the game it's difficult to be consistent.

With T20s coming up don't you think the art of spin bowling would suffer, as it's a batsman's game, and spin won't attract the youngsters?

I don't think T20 or IPL will discourage spinners. The spinners will gradually adjust to this format too and I believe that more youngsters will opt for spin bowling in the near future.

Everybody wants to know how Murali bowls so consistently and what it takes to stay in international cricket for almost two decades.

I have really been lucky to survive for so long in international cricket. The basic principle is to train hard, your dedication and love towards the game. It has given me everything so as long as I am fit I will play.

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Is 1000 Test wickets on your mind?

One thousand Test wickets are not easy to achieve, probably it will take another four or five years to achieve that, which is not possible for me. Maybe a few more wickets and I will be more than happy.

What you have achieved will stand as a cricket milestone. There are some quality spinners around, whom do you rate highly?

Anil Kumble is the best spinner among the contemporary ones. Shane Warne has always been the best spinner. Harbhajan Singh is very good and has all the qualities of making it to the top level. I also like Daniel Vettori, he has been outstanding and Monty Panesar has also come up well. I believe Ajantha Mendis will also come to that category if he plays enough but he has to prove himself. In future, Harbhajan Singh will take a lot of wickets and will go a long way, as he is a player to watch out for every time.

Do you think too much of cricket will shorten the careers of many international players?

I think now-a-days it will be difficult for players to have a long career as they are playing Tests, ODIs and T20s. More cricket will certainly lead to injuries and players will find it tough to prolong their careers. Moreover, the amount of cricket has increased with a tight international schedule and the players hardly find any time to rest. So in the coming days it will certainly shorten a player's career.

There has been debate about senior versus junior in recent times. Younger players are being given priority over the experienced and senior players. How do you see this debate?

I don't think age matters. If you are fit, scoring runs and getting wickets, you are suitable to play. There is no point in categorising players as seniors and juniors. If you perform, you will play.

You are closely associated with charity. Does it keep you busy apart from cricket?

Ya, it's been long about my association with charity. It began when the Tsunami hit the country. Since then I try and help the people and that's the way I live my life. I personally believe that every one should contribute and we should support our fellow men in whatever way we can.

Cricket Today
first published:August 05, 2008, 11:23 IST