New Delhi: After 15 years of international cricket, Harbhajan Singh is still enjoying playing in domestic cricket. The 33-year-old rates himself the best off-spinner in the country and says it is a matter of time before he is recalled to the national side.
You ask him about the motivation for toiling on the nondescript grounds, the veteran of 694 international wickets snaps back.
"What could be a bigger motivation than striving here to get back into the Indian team," Harbhajan, who is relishing captaining Punjab, told IANS on the sidelines of the North Zone Vijay Hazare Trophy at the Ferozeshah Kotla here.
"Every game is an opportunity for a guy like me, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir or anyone who is eyeing a comeback," says Harbhajan, who last played for India in March 2013.
It would be tough for selectors to keep a player of his stature out for so long, especially at a time when the Indian bowlers are finding it tough at home and overseas and number one offie Ravichandran Ashwin getting criticised often for trying too many variations without getting the desired results.
Harbhajan's former captain Sourav Ganguly remains his strong backer and feels the feisty cricketer deserves to be in the national team. The country's most successful off-spinner concurs with his mentor.
"I would not talk about anyone who is playing for India, but I do feel I am still the best in the business. I still have a lot to offer and see myself playing at the highest level for at least three to four years," says a fit looking Harbhajan.
Playing local competitions has also given him an opportunity to gauge the spin talent pool across India. Unfortunately, he doesn't come up with a rosy picture.
"It feels bad to say that I have not seen a spinner who can run through a side," he says remembering his hey days bowling in tandem with another great, Anil Kumble.
He goes on to explain the tricky issue facing Indian cricket.
"Being a spinner means you should be able to spin the ball. I understand you are playing on flat tracks most of the time, but you got to have a stock ball. A ball that you can bowl 90 percent of the time even with your eyes shut.
"I am all for variations, but at max you have two of them. And there are bowlers who don't have a doosra or a carom ball, they get variation by using the crease, change their pace or under cut.
"You put the batsmen in doubt by spinning the normal delivery. If you are doing that consistently and the odd ball is going the other way, it automatically plays on the batsmen's mind.
"Shane Warne is a perfect example of that. He did not have a googly but his basics were so strong that he took most of his wickets with leg-spin. And Murali's doosra was dangerous because his off-spin turned a lot. That is why the youngsters need to focus on basics," he says.
The chat moves back to his career and the dual role he is performing by leading Punjab?
"Captaincy has been doing good so far. It feels good to be around the youngsters. We did not play as well as we should have in the Ranji Trophy, but we hope to make up for that in the one-dayers," he says, adding that he himself would like to take more wickets in the remaining games and be miserly with the runs.
Talking of captaincy, it is difficult not to ask him about the two Indian captains he played under for a long time and especially when Mahendra Singh Dhoni's leadership is being questioned more than ever.
"Both (Dhoni and Ganguly) had different leadership styles. Dhoni is cool. He leaves the decision making to the bowlers, like whatever field you want, which is a good thing. Only the bowler knows where he is going to bowl a particular delivery.
"Sourav on the other hand was brilliant, outstanding is the word.
"The way he handled the youngsters was fantastic...me, Yuvi (Yuvraj Singh), Kaif (Mohammad) Viru (Sehwag), Zak (Zaheer Khan), Ashish (Nehra). The team was coming out of the match fixing scandal and he led from the front. He was the guy who taught us how to win overseas," says Harbhajan as he signs off.