Captaincy has calmed me down: Bhajji

MI skipper says being a leader has taught him how to handle pressure

Bengaluru 23 May 2012
Responsibility can have one of two effects on a person – it either brings out the best in them or it crumbles them. It’s difficult to say what the responsibility of leading the Mumbai Indians has done to Harbhajan Singh the bowler. But as the man himself admits, it has mellowed him down as an individual. The once-temperamental Turbanator now has a more balanced outlook towards cricket and life. The maturity and patience is unmistakable when he talks to you. “You have to think differently as a captain, then you do as a player,” he says.

After leading the Mumbai Indians to the 2011, Harbhajan was thrust into captaincy in IPL 2012 when Sachin Tendulkar decided to step down. While tactically not the soundest captain, he has shown tremendous calmness during the various nervewracking situations that his team has faced right through the season.

After crossing all hurdles, MI have made it to the playoffs in Bhajji’s reign. On the eve of leading his team into the second qualifier, against the defending champions, Chennai Super Kings, the MI skipper spoke to about the season so far, his own bowling and the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents.

From some games in last IPL to the CLT20 and now IPL 2012 – what is that one area where you think you have really improved as a captain?

From the last time I have become calmer and more composed; I don’t get angry when things don’t go in our favour. At the end of the day, I have to understand that in this format, the bowlers will go for runs and sometimes batsmen will get out. If you come across as a guy who gets really aggressive when things don’t go in your favour, it will not set the right tone for the rest of the 10 guys on the field.

Did the number of close games that you played out this season help you deal with pressure situations?

Yes. Especially in T20 you do come across such situations often and you have to deal with them. You’ll eventually win some and lose some but being calm and composed at that moment will enable you to take better decisions. As a leader it is important to lead from the front, not only on the field but off it as well. You should send positive vibes to the team. There are times when you talk to your teammates and suddenly you realise that you can pull off the game from the most difficult positions.

You have defeated CSK in both the league matches in the tournament. Will that give you an edge?

Whatever games we have played so far are all gone and I don’t believe in thinking of what has happened in the past. If I have to see this game, I will see it as a fresh one. CSK have been the champions twice and they will come hard at us knowing that it’s a must-win game. We have plans for them, and hopefully, we can execute them on the day.

How much of an impact will Ben Hilfenhaus have, especially swinging the new ball?

It depends on the particular day whether he is swinging the ball or our batsmen are swinging the bat. We have got batsmen who can handle any kind of bowlers. We are looking forward to this game and we know that if we play to our potential, we can beat any side in this competition.

After trying out eight different opening combinations, has the team found the best one yet?

Not yet. We have got [Herschelle] Gibbs who did well for us in Kolkata and now we have got [Dwayne] Smith who played a perfect innings in Rajasthan for us. We’ll discuss what the ideal combination would be for the day and the opposition.

What is the biggest threat that CSK poses to your team?

They are a very confident bunch and they have the experience of playing these big games and winning them. That is probably their strength. They have players like MS Dhoni, Dwayne Bravo and Albie Morkel who have done well over the years for them.

Why haven’t you completed your quota of four overs in most games this season?

As a captain you need to read the game from a different prospective. For the team’s sake you have to take bold decisions of not bowling a bowler if he’s not required, be it Harbhajan, Muralitharan or Warne. It’s not that I don’t want to bowl – I always want to bowl as many overs that I can. But as a captain you have to stop thinking about yourself. I put my team ahead of single individuals and I feel that is very important to go forward.

Would you field a pace-heavy bowling attack on this wicket?

I have not decided on what team to go with. Last time Pragyan Ojha played a crucial role in us beating CSK, with his two wickets. In this format, it’s not about which wicket you play on. It’s more about playing with the batsman’s mind.
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