He was lucky to have been a member of the Ranji Trophy-winning Punjab team in 1992-93 season but will he be third-time lucky as a coach too? That’s the question the former Punjab and India pacer Bhupinder Singh Sr,who also served as national selector before he was signed up yet again as the Punjab coach for this season,is facing. Incidentally,Bhupinder has had two terms as the Punjab coach through the 90s and the early 2000’s and as he settles into another term,Sportline caught up with him.
This is your third stint as the Punjab Ranji team coach. How do you see your role as coach of the team for the upcoming season ?
I had worked with the present crop of Punjab cricketers in the past too. I have been following their performances even though I was not the coach of the team. My role would be to motivate and extract match-winning performances from the players. For example,I would like Jeewanjot Singh to carry his form in this season as well and aim for the top level. Then,I want the spinners to do well for the team in the upcoming season and deliver the goods. The batsmen should aim to go for big scores and make an impression.
Jeewanjot had a dream Ranji debut season last year. Is there any other talented cricketer like him coming up the ranks ahead of the season ?
Jeewanjot had a dream start to his career. He set a tremendous bench mark for the others. I would not name any batsman as such,but I want all the batsman to take him as an inspiration and do well for Punjab. There have been tough camps and the Katoch Shield was competitive in which cricketers put in a lot of efforts. They came up with great performances and I hope they carry their forms carried further in the season.
Arun Sharma and Vikram Rathore have worked with the Punjab Ranji teams since your last coaching assignment. What changes have you observed in the Ranji teams since then ?
Both of these coaches have made great efforts in shaping up the current Punjab team. It was wonderful to see Punjab reach the semi-finals last season. I have seen cricketers like Mandeep Singh, Taruwar Kohli,Siddharth Kaul,Sandeep Sharma,Mayank Sidhana and Ravi Inder Singh evolve and understand their responsibilities. I would say that Punjab outfit is the best among others right now and it is over with the re-building stage.
Since Harbhajan Singh was dropped from the Indian Test and ODI teams,he has not done well in the longer version of the game,although he has delivered in the T-20 matches. He has not played enough cricket this year due to his other commitments. Does this bother you as a coach ?
Harbhajan has over 400 wickets in Test cricket. He is quite capable of making adjustments and perform accordingly. It is a pity that the Duleep Trophy matches got washed away due to rains and the match could not take place. It would have been the ideal preparation for Harbhajan and few other Punjab cricketers. I have belief in Harbhajans leadership and bowling skills.
How do you assess the present group of selected probables for the Ranji Trophy ?
We have a great bunch of players who are attending a conditioning camp at the PCA Stadium at present. Talent-wise,the Punjab outfit is the most balanced one. With a strong and experienced captain like Harbhajan Singh,the team has a good combination. They have the zeal to go with the talent.
How do you see Punjabs road ahead in the Ranji Trophy keeping in mind the standard of their opposition teams in the league stage ?
We have some good teams like Haryana,Mumbai and Karnataka in the league stage of Ranji Trophy. They will give us tough challenge. The Punjab team will be tested playing against such teams. We are well aware and prepared. It wont be easy against them but then we do our best and aim for wins.
Punjab play four matches this season at the Mohali stadium,which traditionally offers help to the pacers and we have seen spinners struggling on its pitches during the Ranji season. Do you think having spinners like Harbhajan Singh,Rahul Sharma,Rajwinder Singh and Sarabjit Ladda in the team at the same time can be a luxury ?
Traditionally in the months of November and December,the Mohali pitch doesnt offer much to the spinners while pacers dominate the proceedings. I am very well aware of the fact that in the away games and also in the knock-out stage,spinners play a crucial role. This time we are going to have different surfaces at the Mohali ground that will also assist spinners. We want the spinners to get into rhythm in Mohali itself and then go raring in the knock-out stage.