Punjab’s number 3 batsman Uday Kaul put his arms around Mandeep Singh’s shoulders as the two walked off the field at the end of the final day’s play against Railways at the Air Force Sports Complex here in Palam. A little later, captain Yuvraj Singh came forward to shake hands with his middle-order batsman. Yuvraj Singh’s side were a subdued unit in their Ranji opener.
Having conceded a lead of 116 runs in the first innings, they had their backs to the wall for the first three days. Chasing 362, Punjab were under strife on the fourth day after they lost three wickets for 84 runs. In walked Mandeep. Along with Kaul, the duo stitched an unbeaten stand of 86 runs for the fourth wicket to ensure there weren’t any further mishaps. The partnership also ensured Punjab would leave the national capital with a solitary point after a hard-fought draw.
The biggest takeaway, however, was Mandeep’s strokeful knock at the fag end of the fourth afternoon on Sunday. He remained unbeaten on 41, but looked under no stress whatsoever. His footwork was assured, and his intent resolute. In between, he opened up to muscle two towering sixes to illustrate his hard-hitting credentials.
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After being dismissed for only three runs in the first innings, this knock could not have come at a more opportune moment. The middle-order batsman, who has been drafted into India’s squad for the first three ODIs against New Zealand, will now look to carry the confidence into the upcoming series that begins next week. The 24-year-old has come in to replace an injured Shikar Dhawan.
Despite his father’s (an athletics coach) staunch opposition, Mandeep had always dreamt of playing cricket and giving the cricket ball an almighty whack.
Fortunately, he got a dream initiation — when he was appointed the vice-captain of the India Under-19 squad for the 2010 World Cup. Even though he managed to impress most with his belligerent displays with the bat, his transition to the the senior side was not smooth. In a heavily crowded Indian middle-order, Mandeep, like most youngsters in his age-group, had to score a mountain of runs at the domestic season to push his case.
Buoyed by his blistering hits, Mandeep hogged the limelight in his debut IPL season (2012) for the Kings XI Punjab , where he walked away with the “Emerging Player’s Award”. He had to wait for three years before making the big leap into India’s senior side — in the three T20s against Zimbabwe in June 2015.
A crackling unbeaten fifty in the second game in the series further showcased his potential. Mandeep, however, had his most fruitful stint at the top flight under the tutelage of coach Rahul Dravid. Barely two months after his T20 debut, the Punjab middle-order batsman was included in the India A side for the quadrangular series in Mackay, Australia. His stint in Australia proved to be the litmus test, and a sure shot indicator of the rapid strides he had made as a player.
Bred on the placid tracks in India until then, playing in Australia proved to be an arduous task. However, he managed to channelise his skills better.
With Dravid at the helm, it helped him clear his apprehensions of making the all-important transition to the next stage. After the early struggles in Mackay, Mandeep rose to the challenge during a crucial game, where he scored a match-winning 95 against Australia A. That tour had toughen up Mandeep mentally.
Having prospered in Australia, and then fighting it out at Palam to help Punjab salvage a draw in the Ranji opener, Mandeep is now poised to take the next big leap of faith. After a series of inconsistent performances at the domestic circuit in the last three seasons, the Punjab player is now eerily close to achieving his long cherished childhood dream. Mandeep will have his chance at Dharamsala — a picturesque venue where India play their first ODI against New Zealand.
Brief scores: Railways 331 and 245/7 decl drew with Punjab 215 all out and 170/3 in 58 overs (Uday 61 not out, Mandeep 41 not out).
Points: Railways 3, Punjab 1.