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 today.
Punjab scored a decent 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 more 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 over his talented younger opponent.
Harbhajan in fact punished Rasool hitting him for five sixes in seven balls with a couple that landed outside the Moti Baug ground over 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.
The 33-year-old 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.