Partners once but opponents now, V. V. S. Laxman and Harbhajan Singh present contrasting pictures at the PCA Stadium. One has said “goodbye” to the game and the other gives himself a few more years. So very different in mannerisms, Laxman keeps to himself and Harbhajan loves to express himself; yet they are so similar when it comes to practising their art with conviction.

It will be a moment to frame when the two walk to toss as Punjab hosts Hyderabad in the Ranji Trophy opener. “I made my first-class debut against Punjab (in 1992-93),” says Laxman even as Harbhajan nods. “I have always done well when Laxman too has,” it is Laxman’s turn to acknowledge.

They return to domestic circuit for different reasons. Laxman wants to serve his State. “I owe it to them. I dreamt to play for the country and now serve the State as an international player. I want to share my experience with the young boys. I learnt a lot from my seniors and I must do the same now when I am a senior. I have always felt domestic cricket should be given importance. You will get quality players only if your domestic cricket is strong,” said Laxman.

Harbhajan mused, “Competition was very stiff when I was growing up. In my first season I saw players like Raman Lamba, Ajay Sharma, Navjot Sidhu, Vikram Rathour. Believe me it was extremely tough to get into the Delhi or Punjab team. I know the importance of domestic cricket. It is one step short of the big league.”

Green track

Laxman celebrated his 38th birthday in a boisterous dressing room while Harbhajan had a quiet lunch. His thoughts were on the contest. “The pitch will guide the match. It is very green, a lot greener than last year. I didn’t ask for grass. Spinner-friendly pitch would have been better because I have a spinner who could have done the job.”

Harbhajan was clearly unhappy with the pitch which was described by curator Daljit Singh as “hard and firm”.

Pitch caught the attention of Laxman too. “We need to improve the pitches because they are the most crucial aspect of the game. We tend to play on placid pitches and they create a false impression on many. We have to provide competitive nature to our cricket and only then we can have a good contest between bat and ball.”

Mandeep Singh, Gurkeerat Singh, Mayank Siddana, Amitoze Singh, Rahul Sharma, Manpreet Gony add substance to the Punjab campaign. The home team will not have Yuvraj Singh for this match. Hyderabad is looking up to its seam trio of Anwar Khan, M. A. Khader and Kaneshkk Naidu with Pragyan Ojha and part-time spinner Ahmed Quadri completing the attack. “Our strength is batting and we are well prepared,” said Hyderabad coach Sunil Joshi.

“Whether it is your first or 100th game, you always look to start well. I had to work hard to reach here. The Punjab team knows it well. Ups and downs will come but one has to look forward. We can’t waste time thinking about the past. We have a young team and it is always good to catch up with them and push my energy level,” said an excited Harbhajan.

Nervous

Laxman confessed to being nervous. “I am positively nervous and you must have this nervousness. It confirms your commitment and positive thinking about the match.”

He has always had such ominous notions before every success. Harbhajan and his bowlers will clearly have to be at their best on Friday.

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