Punjab captain Harbhajan Singh made a superb return to competitive cricket as he smashed 92 off only 80 balls to rescue his team from a precarious position against an impressive Jammu and Kashmir bowling attack on the first day of the Ranji Trophy quarter-final in Vadodara on Wednesday.
Punjab finished with 304 in their first innings as Harbhajan and No 9 batsman Sandeep Sharma (51) added an invaluable 105 runs for the eighth wicket after J&K seam trio of Samiullah Beigh (2/56), Ram Dayal (3/59) and Umar Nazir (4/66) reduced them to 146 for seven. At stumps, J&K were 11 for one after opener Obaid Haroon (4) edged one from Sandeep to wicketkeeper Gitansh Khera.
Using the helpful conditions, J&K bowlers --- especially seamer Dayal, caused a lot of discomfort for Punjab's top-order batsmen including Yuvraj Singh (10) but the experienced Punjab team finally wriggled out of trouble. Coming back after a shoulder niggle that kept him out for more than six weeks, Harbhajan clobbered eight fours and six sixes in his 80-ball knock before he was out trying to slog sweep opposite number Parveez Rasool over short fine-leg.
It was a duel between two offies in which Harbhajan clearly emerged as the winner. Harbhajan in fact, punished Rasool by hitting him for five sixes in seven balls with a couple that landed outside the Moti Baug ground over the deep mid-wicket fence. Two more were hit over sight screen clearing the ground while another was also hit towards the deep end. Rasool had a poor outing with the ball as he went for 64 runs in 13 overs. Harbhajan also hit some crisp drives on the up off medium pacer Mohammed Mudhasir (0/55) and Nazir. When Rasool pitched it wide, he was promptly on the backfoot to cut him past the point fielder.
Harbhajan got good support from Sandeep, who played the role of second fiddle to perfection by rotating the strike. Harbhajan scored 68 off his 92 runs in boundaries with 14 scoring strokes. The veteran of 101 Test matches was finally out eight short of what would have been a deserving third first-class century (he has two in Tests).
However, Punjab were in a relatively safe position at 251 for eight at that stage. Sandeep, in company of Manpreet Gony (5) and VRV Singh (9) added 53 runs more to take Punjab past 300-run mark. Sandeep faced 123 balls hitting eight fours and was the last batsman out with Umar Nazir cleaning him up. In fact, batting for nearly two-and-half-hours helped Sandeep as he was nicely warmed up when he came into bowl during the last four overs of the day. Wicketkeeper batsman Haroon got a streaky boundary but clearly looked uncomfortable as he nicked an outswinger to Gitansh behind the stumps.
One down batsman Bandeep Singh was caught at third slip off a Manpreet Gony delivery but the umpires ruled it as no-ball.
Brief scores: Punjab 304 all out in 81.2 overs (Harbhajan Singh 92, Sandeep Sharma 51, Yuvraj Singh 10, Umar Nazir 4/66, Samiullah Beigh 2/56) vs Jammu and Kashmir 11/1 in 4 overs (Sandeep Sharma 1/5).