Exciting times for Punjab cricket, says skipper Mandeep Singh
CHANDIGARH: Packed with potential, swagger, and single-handed match winners who don’t click as a team, they aren’t the West Indies but Punjab. But skipper Mandeep Singh says these are exciting times.
Caught on the sidelines of the practice session in new stadium at Mullanpur, he was bullish about the prospects of this season. He told TOI: “This very young team, inexperienced in comparison to rivals, is very exciting and the best Punjab squad I have been part of. We have all bases covered this time, with four good fast bowlers, three quality spinners, and a batting lineup that looks settled. Hopefully, we will qualify for the knockouts of Vijay Hazare Trophy.”
Punjab has been clubbed with Himachal Pradesh, Vidarbha, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Baroda and Odisha in Group B. The team will leave for Vadodra on Sunday to open their campaign against Himachal Pradesh on September 25.
There is no dearth of young talent in Punjab. The squad looks exciting on paper with promising youngsters such as Shubman Gill, Anmolpreet Singh, Mayank Markandey, Prabhsimran Singh, Abhishek Sharma, Karan Kaila, and Akul Pandove.
On Shubman’s availability, the skipper said: "Hopefully, he will be with us for the first couple of matches.” Lack of experience in the side can also be a headache, though. Without Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh, the pressure of keeping the team together will be on Mandeep and his deputy, Gurkeerat Singh Mann.
The skipper agrees that this is a big concern. He said: "In any sports, there is no substitute for experience. Gurkeerat, Sid (Siddharth Kaul), and I will have to take extra responsibility. But youngsters can’t take their place for granted. They must grab their chances and play according to the situation.”
Siddharth Kaul, Sandeep Sharma, left-armer Arshdeep Singh and Baltej Singh will spearhead Punjab’s pace bowling attack, while leggie Mayank Markande, left-armer Karan Kaila, and offie Akul Pandove will run the spin department.
On new coach
The Punjab skipper called the new coach, Munish Bali "players’ favourite". The Jalandhar batsman said: "Most of the squad knows him or has played under him in the junior days. I feel relaxed that the team looks organized under him. He calls the shots during practice and it helps me focus on my batting."
Asked what else had changed since Bali took over, the captain replied: "Let me tell you a short story. In the recent J P Atray Tournament, we were reeling at 35 for 4 against Baroda, while chasing 250. He took the entire team out of the dressing room and made it sit on the boundary line to cheer the two batsmen in the middle. And we went on to win the match."
Coming back from a career-threatening back injury, Mandeep amassed 602 runs at an average of 54.72 in the last Ranji Trophy season but his consistency failed to help his team qualify for the knockouts. He said: "I must begin converting my starts into big scores, if I want to don that Indian jersey again. I will look to score as many runs as possible to get back into reckoning."
His match-winning 90 against Delhi on Feroz Shah Kotla’s underprepared pitch and a fighting 89 against Kerala on Mohali’s lively track last season were a delight to watch but his failure to register a three figure mark in either innings might cost him the chance to play for India A. He quipped before going in for batting practice in the nets: "I have scored a century in JP Atray and will score more runs this season."
Punjab squad for Vijay Hazare:
Mandeep Singh (capt), Gurkeerat Singh Mann (vice-capt), Shubman Gill, Anmolpreet Singh, Prabhsimran Singh, Abhishek Sharma, Siddharth Kaul, Sandeep Sharma, Mayank Markande, Karan Kaila, Arshdeep Singh, Baltej Singh, Akul Pandove, Anmol Malhotra, Abhijeet Garg; standbys (Sanvir Singh and Ikjot Singh Thind)