Harbhajan Singh turns it around, with the bat

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The last few months have probably been the quietest of Harbhajan Singh’s chequered cricket career. No controversies. No headline-grabbing statements. No confrontations. Rarely has the veteran Indian off-spinner remained tucked under the radar for as long as he has during this period. If anything, the 2013-14 domestic season has been about Harbhajan plugging away in the background.

There was the shoulder injury to deal with in between that kept him out of a couple of matches. But Harbhajan for once has gone about his cricket without making much noise — 18 wickets in four games.

On Wednesday at Moti Bagh though he walked into a situation which demanded that he did. Not with ball but bat instead. The Punjab score read 141/6, a precarious position even otherwise. But considering that it was an unsung Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) outfit who had reduced them to this predicament, it only seemed a lot more dire. For starters, the Punjab skipper had the responsibility of ensuring that his team avoid the humiliation of a paltry first innings score. He had done it before. In fact, Harbhajan had smashed his team to safety on more one occasion even in Test cricket.

Five runs later, Punjab would lose a seventh wicket. But Harbhajan was undeterred. Employing his customary gung-ho, no-holds-barred approach, he laid into the J&K bowlers and eventually not only smashed a thrill-a-minute 79-ball 92. He had also stroked his team into a commanding position by the end of the first day, with Punjab finally being bowled out for 304. If Harbhajan’s cameo won back the day’s honours for the more fancied team, Sandeep Sharma played his part too with a far more patient 51, batting at No.9, providing the late impetus. He then also returned with the new-ball to reduce J&K to 11/1 by snaring opener Obaid Haroon before stumps.

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