India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh on Tuesday admitted it will be very difficult to replace Anil Kumble, who retired from international cricket after the third Test in Delhi.
"Anilbhai has retired now and those will be very, very big shoes to fill. We all know how well he has performed for India and won so many matches," Harbhajan said in Nagpur.
Test captain Kumble called it a day at the end of the drawn third Test in Delhi after struggling with injuries and fitness problems for the last few months. He signed off as India's greatest match-winner and highest-wicket taker, with a tally of 619 wickets in 132 Tests.
The Kumble-Harbhajan partnership was also one to cherish for Indian fans. The duo bagged more than 500 wickets together in the 54 Tests they played alongside each other, and not surprisingly the off-spinner admitted that he would miss his senior spin colleague at the other end.
"I have always enjoyed bowling alongside Anil Kumble and I will definitely miss him at the other end. We all will definitely miss him in the dressing room and even on the field."
At the same time he believes it is a good opportunity for a young spinner like Amit Mishra to stake claim for a permanent place in the Test team.
"Amit Mishra and other young bowlers have a good opportunity to prove themselves in the team. Obviously they are good enough and have played a lot of domestic cricket. I am sure with time they will perform well for the country as well," he said.
The Punjab off-spinner is on the verge of a big landmark in the fourth and final Test against Australia at Nagpur, beginning on Thursday. He is just one wicket from completing 300 wickets in Tests, a feat achieved by only two Indian bowlers before him --- Kapil Dev (434) and Kumble.
"It has been a very, very long journey. There have been a lot of ups and downs in my life and my cricket as well. I am very happy with whatever I have achieved so far. It would have been nice to get my 300th wicket in Mohali but I could not complete it there. I hope by the grace of God I will get my 300th wicket in Nagpur and I will try and bowl well for my country and win the series for the country, which is more important than me getting 300 wickets. And I am sure that if I keep bowling well, I could end up with not only 300, but also 500 wickets," he said.
Harbhajan, who missed the last Test because of a toe injury, also dispelled doubts about his fitness, saying: "I am 100 percent fit to play."
He believes that there certainly would be a certain void in the dressing room after the twin retirements of Kumble and Ganguly.
"Obviously, when two big players quit in one series, it will be quite different when they won't be there in the next series. But I think with time everybody will have to go. They both are good players, done wonders for the country and played some fantastic cricket. I have learnt a lot from both of them and will definitely miss them."
"We have played a lot of cricket together. I have got great memories with Anilbhai and Sourav. Hopefully Sourav has a good match and gets lot of runs in this match," he added.
But the ace off-spinner was quick to add that the retirements and farewell dramas won't affect the team once it gets into the middle for the final Test.
"Well, it's very simple to be focussed; you just have to focus on cricket. If people are retiring it is their decision. As a team we are all looking forward for a series win. We are 1-0 up and we are looking to win it 2-0. It has been a great series so far and we want to win the series well," the 28-year-old said.
He also made it clear that despite the match being staged on a virgin surface at Nagpur's new stadium the Indian team is not worried.
"Gary Kirsten has visited the new stadium. The whole team might go there tomorrow for a fielding session and get a feel of things. But we are not worried too much about how the wicket will be or whether it is a new ground and what will happen. We are looking forward to play some good cricket -- that is what we have done so far -- and finish the series 2-0," he concluded.