Harbhajan 92 gives Punjab advantage
Jammu & Kashmir 11 for 1 trail Punjab 304 (Harbhajan 92, Sandeep 51, Nazir 4-66) by 293 runs
Harbhajan Singh hit a 79-ball 92 to transform a sagging Punjab innings and set the foundation for a strong first-innings total on the opening day of their quarter-final clash against Jammu & Kashmir. Harbhajan reached his first half-century of the season off 51 balls to help the team inch towards the 200-run mark, and then launched a precise attack on Parvez Rasool, the rival captain and offspinner, to turn the tables.
Punjab were 211 for 7 after 67 overs but the momentum was completely switched over the next 18 balls. Harbhajan slogged the third ball of 68th over, bowled by Rasool, for a flat six over midwicket and repeated the shot off the very next delivery with better results, as the ball sailed even further.
Rasool might have expected the batsman to make a mistake and so kept himself on in the next over. The result, however, was even worse. This time Harbhajan chose to use his feet and hit four sixes in five balls, all to the sight screen. In the space of eight balls, Harbhajan had hit Rasool for 36, taken Punjab to 251 for 7, and himself to within eight runs of his century.
Rasool ultimately won the last round of the bout after Harbhajan top-edged a sweep to short fine-leg, but the battle had already been lost. What would have hurt J&K even more is that they could have easily prevented this late carnage: Harbhajan was dropped on 40 by the keeper off Rasool in the first over after tea, and he went on to add 105 for the eighth wicket with Sandeep Sharma.
Sandeep contributed only 12 in that partnership, but he had stood firmly and comfortably. After Harbhajan's dismissal, he took on the responsibiity of scoring and used the back-foot punch to good effect, finding the boundary eight times. He was the last man to be dismissed, but not before his 51 off 123 balls had helped Punjab to a competitive 304.
Then, as if the J&K players hadn't suffered enough, Sandeep ran hard to bowl the first over and had Obaid Haroon caught behind for 4. Punjab, fielding four slips and a gully, soon had even Bandeep Singh caught at third slip in the second over but Manpreet Gony had overstepped.
J&K's day ended in complete contrast to their start. They had won the toss, opted to bowl and made most of the juice in the pitch. Umar Nazir extracted steep bounce and accounted for Manan Vohra in his sixth over before the skiddy Ram Dayal dismissed the dangerous Jiwanjot Singh and Yuvraj Singh - caught at second slip - in quick succession. Punjab's woes deepened when Mandeep Singh was brilliantly caught at midwicket by Adil Rishi, again off Dayal. Gurkeerat Mann and Ravi Inder Singh added 50 for the sixth wicket, but both were dismissed in quick succession.
J&K would have hoped to restrict Punjab to within 200 at this stage, but Harbhajan was not to be tamed today and, speaking after the day's play, had reason to be satisfied.
"We were not able to score off the seamers, and the spinner's balls were coming on to the bat," Harbhajan said. "There is not much spin on the pitch and the bounce is so good that you can hit through the line. It was one of those days when I was looking to hit and everything clicked. The plan was to look to score against spin. The start wasn't the best as J&K took advantage of good seaming conditions but, at the end of the day, as I look at the scoreboard, I am very satisfied."
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo