Harbhajan Singh draws praise from Black Caps

The Indian off-spinner finishes the drawn Test with poor bowling stats, but his maiden century wins him the man-of-the-match award.

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Harbhajan Singh never thought there would come a day when he would win the man-of-the-match award for his batting.

The India off-spinner finished with poor bowling figures of one for 122 in the drawn first Test against New Zealand in Ahmedabad yesterday.

But unexpectedly, he more than made up for that with scores of 69 and 115.

Not only was the second-innings knock his maiden Test century, it was also a crucial one in the context of the game, which could would almost certainly have gone New Zealand's way.

Harbhajan joined VVS Laxman at the crease when India were tottering at 65 for six in the last session on day four, the hosts leading by just 93 runs. But his stand of 163 with the Hyderabadi - that went into yesterday's fifth day - ensured India managed a draw.

"I never dreamed I would be MoM for batting, not in Tests, maybe in the one-dayers. [It is] fantastic to get my hundred," Harbhajan said.

"A big thanks to Laxman, without whom I would not have scored this."

Laxman, himself, missed out on a 17th Test hundred, after being trapped leg before wicket by Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain. But by the time India were bowled out, for 266, it was too late to force a result. The Black Caps were 22 for one when Vettori and MS Dhoni, his counterpart, agreed to a draw.

Vettori had no qualms in admitting that India's lower-order batman had denied the Kiwis a possible win with his aggressive brand of cricket.

"Harbhajan is a good attacking batsman and he knows how to play the shots. He put us under pressure," Vettori told reporters during the post-match press conference.

"Harbhajan played his natural game and put the pressure back on to us. He blocked our attack and played so well and aggressive cricket that he managed to take the game away from us," he said.

Indeed, Harbhajan lived dangerously early in his innings - he could have been run out by Vettori, while Brendon McCullum grassed a tough chance close in.

He responded by extravagantly sweeping Vettori for four.

There was frustration for the tourists as Laxman drove Vettori just short of the bowler, then Harbhajan - having hit a sweep into BJ Watling's ribs - edged Jeetan Patel inches in front of slip.

Again he replied in idiosyncratic style, reverse-sweeping the off-spinner for four to bring up the 50 partnership.

But the superb match-saving stand was ended in highly controversial fashion as Laxman was given out leg before for 91 despite getting a huge inside edge on Vettori's arm-ball. The 36-year-old hit nine fours in 253 balls.