It is a crucial match for Punjab, one that will decide whether they will progress to the Ranji Trophy quarterfinals or not. Up next is Delhi, who despite the innings defeat in the last encounter against Vidarbha, are through to the knockouts thanks to their exploits at home.
While victory for Vidarbha hasn’t spoiled Delhi’s chance, it definitely has created more problems for Punjab, who, to make things worst, lost to Odisha in the previous game. Victory against Delhi is a must in the last group fixture and yet, Punjab, for all the pressure they must be under, looked calm on the surface. The reason, the presence of Harbhajan Singh.
The former India off-spinner reached the Dhruv Pandove Stadium, the venue for Friday’s Group B match against Delhi, with Yuvraj Singh. Their entry seemed to lift the rest of the team members, who till then looked sullen and were going through the motions during training. A poke here, a joke there and Punjab were suddenly full of life.
Long awaited return
The 34-year-old was seen rolling his arm over on the side pitches and bowled with a nice loop and flight. With the wicket likely to assist spin, Harbhajan certainly will be expected to take Punjab out of trouble.
“The wicket looks rough and there will a lot of turn on this track. I think we will go with three spinners and I think the majority of the game will see spinners in action,” said Harbhajan, who not long ago had criticised the nature of pitches on domestic circuit, aimed at supporting pacers more than spinners. This Ranji season Harbhajan has played only two matches, against Saurashtra and Maharashtra, and has managed to pick up just two wickets. Now, hopefully in a pitch that is likely to provide considerable turn, he can right that wrong.
“We have missed him in the last three games but I am happy that he is back and ready to shoulder the responsibility for us. His role is very important for us as being an experienced spinner; he will be expected to pick most of the wickets,” coach Bhupinder Singh said.
But it is not just his spin that can help Punjab. Harbhajan has a fifty to his name as well, meaning the hosts can depend on his batting too. Then there is Yuvraj Singh. Three centuries in as many games gave Punjab the start they were looking for. But then came the blip.
He failed with the bat in the last three and with it Punjab also lost their way. However, a fighting 56 in a losing cause against Odisha may be the sign of things getting better. Punjab will definitely hope that is the case.