Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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The Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the Indian domestic Twenty20 tournament, might be insignificant for many in comparison to the star-studded IPL, but Harbhajan Singh has come out in support, calling the former a "very important" event. Harbhajan said the tournament allowed many domestic players to showcase their talent ahead of the IPL. "This is probably the important tournament. IPL, everyone knows, is important, too, but this [Mushtaq Ali] is the tournament where you get to see a lot of domestic players," Harbhajan said after Punjab entered the quarter-finals with an easy win over Assam at Brabourne Stadium.
Harbhajan said the event was valuable for domestic youngsters because many could not find a place in the IPL which has only nine teams. "It is a good opportunity for everyone who is playing in this competition to gain their form before the IPL and also for youngsters who are not playing in the IPL to show what they can do in such a competition." With Narendra Hirwani and Surendra Bhave, two national selectors, observing the tournament, Harbhajan said players could make an impression ahead of the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka later this year.
Harbhajan cited his own example as he was using the tournament to try and make a comeback to the Indian team. Harbhajan has been out of the national side after he returned home midway from the Test series in England last year with an abdominal muscle injury. He has primarily played in domestic one-day tournaments after a shin injury ruled him out of most of the Ranji Trophy.
He has found success as a captain, though. After recovering from the injury picked during the England tour, Harbhajan lead Mumbai Indians to the Champions League Twenty20 title. He then led the India Green team in the Challenger Trophy, top-scoring for his side in the tied final and picking up 3 for 37.
His Ranji Trophy season lasted three matches in which he could take only two wickets. He returned to lead Punjab to the semi-final of the Vijay Hazare Trophy one-day tournament where they lost to Bengal. He then captained North Zone, who finished as runners-up to West Zone in the Deodhar Trophy.
Harbhajan said that he was positive about returning to the Indian team but wanted to make sure he did not get injured anymore. "I have worked very hard at the NCA. I am fully fit. I have been playing a lot of domestic cricket and that is helping me to build my stamina. I am playing to the best of my ability to get back to the Indian side soon and hope to get them back to the No. 1 status."