Harbhajan Singh bowls in the nets
Manoj Patil / © Hindustan Times/Getty Images

Talking Cricket

Harbhajan Singh: 'In T20 you have to think wickets always. Most bowlers don't'

For over a dozen years in the IPL, Singh has flown the flag for offspin. He talks about what it takes to succeed in the shortest format

Interview by Nagraj Gollapudi  |  

Harbhajan Singh went wicketless in the final of the 2007 World T20, which India won. Restless and apprehensive of being hit, he rushed through his overs, finishing with 0 for 36 off three. Thirteen years later, although he does not feature for India anymore, Singh is one of the most successful fingerspinners in T20 cricket - a rare breed. Here he talks eloquently about the art of fingerspin in the shortest format.

You have played T20 for more than a decade. You might celebrate a wicket with emotion, but when it comes to bowling, you are always calm.
What I have learned is, if you are not focused about the thing you need to do, it will not happen. The process of bowling starts when you are standing at your bowling mark before you start your run-up, thinking what you are going to bowl. Then you see your field, the length you want to bowl, and how you want the batsman to play.

Most times when I have made a mistake it is because I was in a hurry to do things. When you concentrate, mostly you land the ball where you want it to land. After that, whatever way the batsman responds is based on his skill.

Concentration only comes when you are calm. After taking the wicket you can make as much noise as you wish, but you'll have to come back into the zone again for the next delivery. You might get Sachin Tendulkar out, but next ball, any youngster can come and hit you for a six. In this format you can be a hero for your first 21 balls, and on the last three you can go for three sixes and finish your spell for 40.

"I always remember one thing Jonty Rhodes said in the Mumbai dressing room. He said: 'There's always a lot of time, or more time than you think in this game'"

Were you always calm? Especially in the initial years?
No. (laughs) These nerves can spike up and down the whole day. On days when it is up and down, you are anxious to do something. No - 60% I would say relaxed, but 40% I would be anxious.

Would you say the 2007 World T20 final against Pakistan is a good example of such a state of mind?
Definitely. Because after I was hit for a six, the pressure kept increasing. Rather than thinking what to do next, I was rushing through my deliveries. I wanted to just finish that over and feel, Chalo, ho gaya mera [I've finished my job].

Take that over where Misbah [-ul-Haq] went after me. Okay, anybody can be hit for a six or two sixes or three sixes, but was my process correct? Many times we [bowlers] are ourselves so scared about being hit, we send the batsman the message that we are on the back foot. So against Misbah I just wanted to bowl the quicker delivery and the yorker. Because in the the semi-final, against Australia, I bowled six yorkers and it worked. Maybe there I was taking a bit longer, I was more focused, more composed, and able to stick to my plan.

Against Pakistan, maybe I was rushing. I was not soaking up the pressure. When you are in a rush, you are not settled. Your feet are not working properly. Or your hands do not coordinate smoothly in your bowling action. Your front hand falls down quickly, or your bowling hand comes late, sometimes the ball does not spin, and what you want does not happen.

Back then you were 26, well established as a Test and ODI bowler. Since then you have become a standout spinner in T20 in terms of longevity and consistency. You are the only one to have an economy rate of less than 7.5 in eight IPL seasons.
In fact, I was 6.5 at one point.

I want to talk about where I made similar mistakes even in the IPL. I remember a [2012] match against Rajasthan [Royals]. Owais Shah scored some runs against us. I was bowling at the death [over 16]. Rather than being focused or thinking what he [Shah] was doing, I was giving him the pace. I bowled three full tosses and he hit me for a couple of sixes.

After the match I was thinking to myself, "I could have bowled slow to him, I could have bowled far from him. Why didn't I do it?" Because I did not take the time. I always remember one thing Jonty Rhodes said in the Mumbai dressing room. It was actually meant for the batsmen. He said: "There's always a lot of time, or more time than you think in this game."

We feel in T20s the game happens at a very fast pace, so we tend to push ourselves and finish our overs fast. But even if I take my time, I will finish my over in two and a half minutes. I was just trying to push myself to finish the over in one and a half minute. Take a little extra time, even an extra second - that can provide the trigger for what you need to do.

Main ingredient: nice, long fingers, strong knuckles, and hands built up in the course of early rough-and-ready training

Main ingredient: nice, long fingers, strong knuckles, and hands built up in the course of early rough-and-ready training Jewel Samad / © AFP

Do you think part of your consistency in T20 is because you have bowled so many thousands of deliveries in first-class and international cricket?
That is one of the reasons. Since I have played a lot of cricket, I can control a few things better than others. You can understand what to do in what situation. Sometimes even I think to myself: "This batsman will hit me." If you have decided on your own that he is going to hit you, then who is going to save you?

If the belief is there that you are going to get him out, you'll get him out because you are thinking right. Most of the times when I have got guys like AB de Villiers and others, I never thought, "He will hit me for a six." I always thought that I am going to get him out. It is very important to have that mindset. You have to be positive. And you have to think wicket at all times. Most often bowlers don't think wickets in this format.

If you take wickets, only then will you not get hit. If you don't take wickets, then even if you have a good googly, however good your legspin is, however good your doosra is or your offspin, you will go for runs because you are not thinking right - you have to think wickets.

"Sometimes I think to myself: 'This batsman will hit me.' If you have decided on your own that he is going to hit you, then who is going to save you?"

How do you keep your fingers supple and flexible to bowl spin?
You need to have nice long fingers to be a fingerspinner. If you have small hands then you will not get as much turn on the ball as you want to. Sachin [Tendulkar] once told me that my knuckles are very big. During my wedding, they had to use ek-do tola [10-20 grams] more for gold in my ring (laughs). Those knuckles give me a very good grip on the ball.

When I was young I did a lot of work on my hands without knowing it. As part of the conditioning, our coaches used to make us do the wheelbarrow [walking forwards on your hands while another person holds your legs]. You had to use your fingertips mostly. Also, our coach had ropes hanging from a tree, which we had to use to climb. That helped us strengthen the shoulders and arms, but also your grip had to be firm, otherwise you couldn't climb. Desi [homestyle] kind of training it was, but it helped me get strong fingers.

Just because you are a fingerspinner, it doesn't mean you use only the fingers - your wrist has to be very firm too, and it plays a big role. Otherwise your hand can fall. If your wrist is straight, your ball will get the position you want. The moment your wrist starts tilting, the ball will spin less. As a bowler you need to understand when you want to keep your wrist straight, when you want it tilted, and when you want to use the wrist and fingers together to get the best out of the delivery.

What is the difference between when you bowl in a Test match or ODI compared to T20?
Mindset. In a Test match you have a lot of time. You think about getting into a rhythm. You want to just stick to offspin, bowl offspin more than 90% of balls. I will just keep changing the shine of the ball in my hand, sometimes in, sometimes out, use the crease here and there, but my aim is to land the ball on the spot consistently. At least 95% of my balls have landed on the same spot.

"Most spinners now are not looking to spin the ball. That is where they are making the biggest mistake" Pal Pillai / © ICC/Getty Images

In T20 you can't keep landing on the same spot because you can go for a lot of runs. In a Test match, not many play attacking shots once you place fielders in the deep. But in T20, a batsman will have to score runs even if the field is spread out. So as a bowler, you need to think that there's a chance for you to take a wicket.

When training for T20, what changes, compared to Test cricket?
In the last five-six years I have only looked to bowl spin, and slow, in the nets. Bowl as slow as I can. I will not bowl a single yorker, I will not bowl a single doosra. I will not bowl a single cross-seam delivery. That is because when you are playing [T20] regularly, during the match you are automatically doing stuff like sliding the ball, bowling outswing, and if you are bowling with the new ball, you are not even rolling the fingers over the ball - so that it can just go straight.

You don't want to lose spin on the ball. That's why when I go into practice, I try and make sure if I am bowling 100 balls, all 100 are offspin. When you want to spin the ball during a match, it should spin as much as you want.

Most spinners now are not looking to spin the ball. That is where they are making the biggest mistake. A spinner is good when he is able to spin the ball and give dip to the ball. When does that happen? When he can give the ball some air. There is no heavyweight bowler who has managed to make the ball spin, dip, swerve without giving it air.

"Nathan Lyon, you see his hip-drive. After the ball leaves his hand, when he lands on the front foot, check his follow-through, how nicely he finishes. That's the reason he can get the revs on the ball"

And adding revs?
You add the same revs on every ball, but how it lands is the key. If it lands half on the seam and half on the side, then you get spin and bounce. But sometimes it lands fully on the seam, then you only get bounce. At times if my wrist position drops even a little bit, the revs are the same, but the ball will go straight because it has landed on its belly.

These minor adjustments you should know as a bowler when to do it rather than them happening on their own. You have to check all this in the training. You have to check whether your wrist position is fine and whether you are looking to spin every ball, even if the batsman is trying to hit a six every ball.

Say you are bowling in the nets to a young batsman. You, the senior bowler, are trying to focus on spinning the ball, but he keeps charging you. Do you then think: let me show him something?
No, you need to keep your ego back in the hotel. I look to achieve what I want to achieve during the practice session. I will not be bothered by how the batsman is looking to play me.

I do get upset sometimes when a batsman is trying to hit every ball, though he will not do it in the actual match. Kieron Pollard, he does not hit every ball in the nets, but during a match, when he feels like it, he can hit a six. Then there is Lendl Simmons. A very good player, and he did so well for Mumbai Indians, but every ball I would bowl to him [in the nets], he would step out and hit it. Once I got irritated and I pitched five or six bouncers consecutively. I told him, "Look, if I am bowling to you in a match, are you going to hit me for six sixes off six balls?" He said, "No, but this is what I am practising." I told him he should do what he would do during a match. His thought process was that if he did more hitting, he would connect more during the match.

Made in Mumbai: Singh with team-mates Rohit Sharma (

Made in Mumbai: Singh with team-mates Rohit Sharma ("gives a lot of freedom to the bowlers") and Lasith Malinga, the leading wicket-taker in the IPL Alexander Joe / © AFP

Rohit Sharma, when he plays in the nets, he plays nicely along the ground. He chooses which balls to hit. If you are out ten times in the nets, are you practising to get out? You will not be successful hitting out each time.

What are the skills involved in fingerspin?
Firstly, the ability to spin the ball. But most spinners don't use that on game day because they are practising something else.

Are fingerspinners using more arm than shoulder these days?
Your bowling does not happen from your shoulder. Your bowling happens due to your body. The entire right side of your body [for a right-armer] should go behind the delivery. You must have heard thousands of times, "There's nothing on the ball." That happens when your body is not behind the ball - you take the run-up and when you come to the final stride, you don't "finish" your action. The pivot, your hip-drive, your follow-through. All these are connected.

When you were coming up the ranks, I assume you were taught to deliver with a high shoulder because that would impart loop and flight?
High shoulder, yes. That shoulder should be behind the ball, we were taught. But the most important thing, I feel, for a fingerspinner is the hip-drive, which helps you complete your action.

If you see Nathan Lyon bowling, you see his hip-drive. After the ball leaves his hand, when he lands on the front foot, check his follow-through, how nicely he finishes. That's the reason he can get the revs on the ball. Yes, he delivers with a high arm, but hip-drive is very important. The more body you put behind the ball, the better the result you will get. My childhood coach always used to say, "Let your body go forward." I used to ask Anil bhai [Anil Kumble] in the nets and he would say the same: "Let the body go [forward] in the follow-through." Then you will be able to get spin and bounce.

Two years back, my first year at Chennai Super Kings, I had problems with my knees. I was unable to complete my bowling action. People could go on the back foot and hit me for a six, or charge and hit me. I said to one of our coaches, "My knees are very bad, I'm not able to move, I'm not able to run, I'm not able to finish my action, I'm not getting the rhythm in my bowling." There was no strength in my bowling.

Then, last IPL, I worked really hard. Did a lot yoga, did a lot of stretches. My body was very light and there was no pain. So the main difference last year in my bowling was, I got the same zip, spin, bounce, and the ball was moving at a good pace on pitching. I was putting a lot of body behind the ball. The previous year there was no body behind the ball - I was just using the arm.

And that made you predictable?
Absolutely. So the batsman can hit you when he steps out and when he plays on the back foot.

When does a batsman get stumped? When he is far from the ball. When you have the rhythm, the batsman steps out to hit you but the ball can drift away, turn and go through. You want the batsman to come out.

"What does the batsman like? That the ball comes on to the bat. When you bowl slower, you give yourself a chance"

How do you work on your length?
Very important. You have to practise bowling at a single stump every day.

In Punjab we say "Iska anta bada set hai, bhai." Essentially it means, "This person is sharp, and if he is given a task, he will do it." It is like, you make a circle on the pitch and ask him to pitch in the middle of that circle, he will do it virtually every time. Like Jaddu [Ravindra Jadeja]. He knows where to pitch and he will do it.

In my case, I have done plenty of single-wicket bowling without any batsman - I must have bowled five-six times more balls that way than I delivered in Tests. It worked for me. If you can't land the ball on a particular spot, then you can't play around with the batsman.

Is this spot the same on every pitch?
If the batsman is tall, you will pull that spot behind, and if the batsman is short, you will land it a bit forward. But as a bowler you know this spot on any ground, where you pitch and it goes on to hit the top of the stump. If the wicketkeeper is collecting the ball close to his chest, then you know you have the bounce.

Growing up, I used to be told to aim to hit top of the stumps, but I have got very few people bowled, because I had a lot of bounce. The reason for the bounce was because when the ball left my hand, the seam position was pretty good. Even on a normal wicket, I could get good bounce.

Bowling against England at the Wankhede in 2002.

Bowling against England at the Wankhede in 2002. "Yes, you can go for sixes, but you can also get a lot of wickets," Singh says of his long-time IPL home ground Rebecca Naden / © PA Photos/Getty Images

But you have to find that spot where you can hit the top of the stump and not the middle. And then you can adjust the length according to the type of batsman, which takes just one or two deliveries to understand, once you have bowled so many balls in the same spot. Say, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer are batting - the length for both is different. That comes into your system based on the several hours you have spent bowling during training.

The speed of the delivery is something we hear commentators talk a lot about. Can you talk about how you manipulate speeds?
You have to determine the speed that will give you the best purchase. In Australia you will not get enough side spin unless the wicket has broken. Then you have to bowl slightly slower without reducing the revs. You could also increase the revs and flight the ball higher. But sometimes the mistake we make in the process of slowing the speed of the ball is, we do not put the fingers and body behind the ball. When you do that, the ball dips and you can get the batsman out on the bounce.

Does that happen in T20s?
I do it, bhai. I have done it both at CSK as well as Mumbai, where I played ten years. In the matches where I have been hit, say, out of the 100 sixes that were hit, at least 80 were against balls I delivered quicker.

What does the batsman like? That the ball comes on to the bat. When you bowl slower, you have a chance: he has to come out, connect, and if his head or technique goes wrong even slightly, you are in the game.

Every bowler has a normal speed. R Ashwin's is different and Nathan Lyon's is different. But we all vary the speed depending on the surface, depending on the pitch conditions. You need to learn your speed while bowling against the single wicket, manipulating speeds.

"As a bowler, when the chance to take a wicket comes, you should go for it. In T20 you get a lot of opportunities"

Say you are bowling at Wankhede.
There you have to bowl slightly slower. It is a good wicket for spinners as it has got lot of bounce. Yes, you can go for sixes, but you can also get a lot of wickets.

Chinnaswamy, in Bengaluru?
You can get side spin - a little. But you need to know how to beat the batsman using that little side spin.

And if you are bowling at the MCG, a bigger ground?
There you have to give more air to the ball, with more revs. You have to apply effort behind every ball there.

Deception is key for any spinner. How do you deceive without letting the batsman know?
You first watch how he is playing. You see what he does when you are drifting the ball away in the air before imparting slight turn. If he tries to reach out, then you can deceive him. You can keep your hand position the same but tilt the ball with the shiny side the other way so there is less drift and the batsman then gets stuck.

Usually when a batsman steps out, he does it because he is unable to reach the pitch of the delivery. So then the bowler pulls the length back a bit further, but for that you have to really finish strong in your follow-through, and you need to put your body behind the ball, as I said. And that is an art you learn by playing for a long time and when you bowl a lot of balls in training.

Singh emerged smiling at the end of the 2007 T20 World Cup final, though he got some stick from Misbah-ul-Haq when he resorted to bowling yorkers

Singh emerged smiling at the end of the 2007 T20 World Cup final, though he got some stick from Misbah-ul-Haq when he resorted to bowling yorkers Alexander Joe / © AFP/Getty Images

You have said several times that fingerspinners fear flighting the ball. Why is that?
Because they feel it is easy to hit. That is not the case really. You ask any top batsman which type of ball is more difficult to hit. There will be one answer: that they should not be made to step out. If the ball is coming slowly, it will spin at least a little bit. And even it if spins a little, there will be doubt in the batsman's mind.

The problem [with young fingerspinners] is, we practise one thing but we do something else when we go to the ground. You should first bowl the same type of delivery, say the offbreak initially, and then bowl the doosra. You have to bowl at least 70% your stock delivery, which is offspin.

Would you say you got carried away with the doosra in T20?
Not just T20, even in Test cricket and one-day cricket. I relied maybe a lot on the doosra when it came to bowling in the end [death overs]. That's where I was maybe making a mistake. I had practised bowling offspin for years and years and I was not bowling that in the match.

Even in that match [2007 T20 World Cup final] against Misbah, I had not practised bowling yorkers. I might have just practised during that tournament. If you take me back to that match, maybe he might hit me for three sixes again, but I would probably have bowled what I know [offspin] better. I could have closed my eyes and just bowled offspinners, then at least he would have had to work more to hit the six.

Why were you resorting to the doosra?
So the batsman would not hit me over cover.

"I don't think we need more than two [types of] balls. Extra knowledge can at times be disruptive"

If a batsman hits you for a straight six or four, do you bowl shorter or you tell yourself you will bowl fuller and vary your length?
You have to think about why he is hitting straight. Is he hitting standing in his ground - which means there must be pace on the delivery? You then bowl a bit slower or drift away so he has to reach or step out to hit straight or hit over midwicket or mid-on. When he is stepping out, you can then afford to pitch a bit more outside the off stump, and in the process you can get him stumped, or at times you get a catch at third man, or sometimes he might try to hit over cover but end up hitting the ball high.

What about using the crease?
I have not used it much in my career. I mostly use the shine on the ball to get drift. I have always tried to bowl from the middle of the crease. I was never comfortable bowling close to the stumps because of the fear that I would brush the stumps with the hand or legs. I did practise a lot bowling very close to the wicket in my training, but it never worked out. If I had done that, maybe I could have got better drift and I could have got more curve behind my delivery.

You would have seen Ashwin use different kinds of deliveries, trajectories, and even try bowling the legbreak in T20. On the other hand, Graeme Swann has said he was old-school, and that maybe it was his ego that would never allow him to experiment. You too have continued being a classical offspinner, even in T20s. Why?
Because I don't think we need more than two [types of] balls. Extra knowledge can at times be disruptive. My main asset was bounce. If I start bowling cross-seam, I don't get much bounce, though with cross-seam, the ball can turn a lot if the surface is rough, and the batsman cannot judge the turn and spin because the seam is not visible.

Swann was a perfect example. What a bowler he was. He could get people out like this… especially left-handers, without doing anything [extra]. That is because he used the pace behind the ball so nicely. Wah! I used to enjoy watching him.

"I have a lot of respect for Ashwin. But if you are asking me to pick the No. 1 fingerspinner in the IPL, then I will pick Jaddu. He is very consistent" Manjunath Kiran / © AFP/Getty Images

Erapalli Prasanna said in an interview once that he needed to straightaway make the ball dip and spin from a length, because that immediately created a psychological advantage. Does that work in T20s?
My outlook is to see how the batsman reacts and based on that, I get my confidence. You get the feeling in the first two or three balls, whether it is a Test match or an ODI or T20, if the ball is pitching nicely, but you don't need to get carried away. At times we get carried away and move away from the process, don't spin the ball, don't align the body, we start focusing on field placements.

My best spells for India have come when I have not thought about field placements. My focus has to be on where I want to pitch - is it landing there or not? Is it behaving the way I want the ball to behave? That's it. The fields the batsman sets on his own - if he is playing badly, automatically an extra fielder comes in. Field setting does matter in T20, but don't overdo it. Don't let your focus shift from your bowling. There are certain fields for different batsmen, to cover their strong areas. But don't think too much. It is a simple game.

Can you set up a batsman in 24 balls?
Not in 24 balls. But sometimes things are set up for you. It is like a ready meal - come, have it or someone else might have it. Say [Lasith] Malinga, who I have bowled a lot with at Mumbai, has bowled really nicely, giving only three runs in the previous over. You know the batsmen will go after me. You can then think two ways - either play safe, or think: this is an opportunity to get a wicket. You know the batsman's big shots, so try and avoid those areas, make him play elsewhere and by playing there, he might make mistakes. The chance has been created for you. Now it's up to you to grab it by thinking right.

If you go defensive, thinking I will give him one run, then are you playing for the batsman? As a bowler, when the chance [to take a wicket] comes, you should go for it. In T20 you get a lot of opportunities.

"My best spells for India have come when I have not thought about field placements. My focus has to be on where I want to pitch - is it landing there or not?"

Let us talk about batsmen you have had a grip on in the IPL: you have got Chris Gayle and Suresh Raina out five times each, David Warner four times - all these are great T20 batsmen. What advantage do you think you have against them?
I just back myself. It is not like they have not hit me for sixes, but I will always look to get them out. Only if you get them out will you win the match. I always remind my colleagues about this. Anil bhai always used to say, "Every ball, you have the opportunity to get him out. How you want to do that, you have to use your brains."

Warner is very good on the back foot - he will cut you. He can switch-hit, he can sweep pretty nicely, he can hit you over cover. He can step out too. Compared to Gayle, Warner is more difficult for me to bowl to. Gayle, if someone bowls quick to him, he will keep hitting sixes. If someone bowls slow to him, he'll have to come out of the crease, which he is not comfortable with. I have never ever felt it difficult to bowl against Gayle. I have bowled a lot at him in powerplays. He did not have the sweep. He did not have the shot over mid-on. Warner hits everywhere, so it is very important to vary the pace against him. Your body language, your eye contact has to be right. You cannot show him you are scared.

Last IPL, against Sunrisers Hyderabad, when I came back to finish my spell, it was the middle overs. The field was open, so I could toss it up a little more. Warner does not step out when the field is spread. He does that when the ball is new, and he had hit me when the ball was not spinning much, during the powerplay. But if you make the ball spin even a little, you create doubt. When I came back [for the second spell], I tossed it higher, Warner came out and was stumped. I was brought back to bowl to get him out. I knew even if I was going to go for runs, I wanted to get him out.

When do you find it comfortable bowling in T20?
Chennai has used me upfront in the last two seasons, where I have predominantly bowled my first three overs in the powerplay. For Mumbai, I bowled mainly in the middle overs.

It depends on the bowling combination. Mumbai have Mali and Jasprit Bumrah, so they don't need another bowler at the death. At Chennai they don't have an experienced bowler upfront.

It is always challenging to bowl in the powerplay because there are fewer fielders outside the circle and the ball is new. Take the game against [Kings XI] Punjab last year. KL Rahul hit me for 41 runs in my first two overs. Every ball he was hitting four, six, two runs. We had scored 170 and they had to go for it to qualify for the playoffs. That was their only chance. I came back after the powerplay. Actually I thought I would not be brought back to bowl. It was the 11th over. In my mind I thought, "Now let's see how much you can hit me. Now the game is 50:50. You can still hit me, but if I bowl well, I will get you." I had a normal field: five on the leg side and four on the off. And I got him out.

Talk us through that wicket.
I knew he was not going to stop. So I had to take a chance. The first ball I bowled, he played toward midwicket. I was aware he would play a big shot next ball. So I bowled wider and slower and a doosra, which he did not connect with very well. It went straight up but very high. Imran Tahir was at cover and lining himself for the catch, and [MS] Dhoni ran for it too. I was just saying to myself, "Bhai, pakad lena, bas. [Just catch it, please.] So 41 runs in the first two overs and then in the final two, I gave around 14-15 runs and picked up three wickets.

"In the last five-six years I have only looked to bowl spin, and slow, in the nets. Bowl as slow as I can. I will not bowl a single yorker, I will not bowl a single doosra" Arun Mondhe / © Hindustan Times/Getty Images

What is your favourite form of dismissal in T20?
Getting someone out in the circle. Like that KL Rahul example. Or a left-hander who attempts a big shot and he is caught at point because your ball is spinning that way. Or making the batsman lunge forward without making him step out - like the Warner example - where he is in two minds whether to hit or not, and you have deceived him.

Let us talk captaincy. Tell us about Dhoni, with whom have played so much.
He is not a captain who says, do this, do that. He wants you to do what you know you can do. Bowl what you know you can. If you can bowl six offspinners, do that. Yes, he has nudged me at times - from behind the stumps or at change of overs - saying, this guy is trying to do this or will try this. But he never tells me what to do.

Once Shardul Thakur was bowling in Pune. He was getting hit every ball. First ball four, second ball six. I went to Dhoni and told him, "Why don't you tell him [Thakur] to change the angle or push a fielder back?" As if he had all the time in the world, Dhoni said to me, "Bhajju pa, if I tell him anything now, he will get confused. Khaane do." [Let him get hit.]

He knew we could afford to get hit because we had already qualified for the playoffs. He [Dhoni] said, "When he [Thakur] feels there is no option left, then I can tell him he could try doing this." So Dhoni will not tell you until you realise you are short of ideas.

"If someone bowls slow to Gayle, he'll have to come out of the crease, which he is not comfortable with. I have never felt it difficult to bowl against him"

How much of a role do captains play in T20?
Yes, they do play a role. How much freedom he gives you to express yourself, do what you want to do, because in the end you are in charge of your own bowling.

Last IPL, in a match against Kings XI, it was tight. Deepak Chahar was told [by Dhoni]: if you can do this, do it. Chahar said he would bowl as per the plan. Then he goes to his bowling mark and bowls something else. Next ball, the same thing happens. Then Dhoni goes to him. Next few balls Chahar bowls what Dhoni asked him to bowl. And the results were totally opposite: first two balls, eight runs [including two for no-balls]. Rest of the over, two runs [five runs - Ed] and a wicket.

What about Rohit Sharma?
Rohit also gives a lot of freedom to the bowlers but thinks wickets at all times. He will not interfere with your bowling. If you want an attacking field, he will give it. It is not compulsory that if a left-hander comes, you get a slip whether the balls spins or not. Then at times we have had a short leg and two slips.

That is like a Test match field.
Yes, I have placed a slip and gully many times. I have had a backward short-leg.

With Dhoni after dismissing David Warner in a 2019 game. Between Chris Gayle and Warner, Singh picks the latter as the more difficult batsman to bowl to in T20

With Dhoni after dismissing David Warner in a 2019 game. Between Chris Gayle and Warner, Singh picks the latter as the more difficult batsman to bowl to in T20 R Parthibhan / © AFP

You have bowled in four IPL finals. Which one did you enjoy the most?
In 2013, 2 for 14 against Chennai at Eden Gardens was the most satisfying. It was a low-scoring match. The 2015 final too was at the same ground. I took 2 for 34, again against Chennai, in a high-scoring match.

Who has been the toughest batsman to bowl to in all T20s?
Rohit Sharma and AB de Villiers are the two most dangerous batsmen to bowl against. They have all kinds of strokes.

Which fingerspinner do you enjoy watching?
Nathan Lyon.

What about in T20 cricket?
I like Mitch Santner and Ravindra Jadeja. Don't think I'm saying that because they are from Chennai. Jaddu is very consistent with what he does. He is very consistent landing in the same spot and he becomes dangerous when it spins. Santner, when the ball spins even a bit, he bowls classically, like in a Test match. He is also tall and utilises his height nicely.

Ashwin is a very good bowler. I have a lot of respect for Ashwin. But if you are asking me to pick the No. 1 fingerspinner in the IPL, I will pick Jaddu. He is very consistent.

"Rohit Sharma and AB de Villiers are the two most dangerous batsmen to bowl against. They have all kinds of strokes"

Yourself, Lyon, Ashwin, Sunil Narine, Mohammad Nabi. Muttiah Muralitharan, Swann and Saeed Ajmal when they were playing. All of you have been the best offspinners for the past two decades. Yet you look at the younger lot and there is no one really emerging as the future. Why?
We have to change the mindset that fingerspinners cannot take wickets. The trend that is being set is that wristspinners can turn it both ways. Now let us take Ashwin. He has the carrom ball, he has offspin, he can make the ball swing out with the seam. He has done well in T20, but he won't get picked [for India]. There are guys [in positions of power] who have this mindset of: why should we pick offspinners? Just because they can play them well, they assume the rest will also do the same. If you want a spinner to bowl three overs in the powerplay, considering Jaddu will be bowling the middle overs and you are looking to take wickets at the start, I feel Ashwin is a good choice.

What about yourself?
They will not look at me because they think I am too old. Also, I don't play any domestic cricket. Last four-five years they did not look at me, though I was doing well in the IPL, taking wickets, and I had all my records to back my case.

Do you think you deserve an opportunity to play for India in T20?
I'm ready. If I can bowl well in IPL, I can do well in international cricket. IPL is a very difficult tournament for bowlers because the grounds are smaller. All the top players in world cricket play in the IPL.

I have bowled mostly in the powerplay and middle overs and got wickets.

In international cricket not all teams have quality players, like IPL teams, where every team has a top six which is good. Yes, Australia, England, India have all got very competitive batting line-ups, but if I can get Jonny Bairstow and David Warner in IPL, don't you think I can get them in international cricket? But it is not in my hands. No one comes and talk to you in this present Indian set-up.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo