The wait is finally over for Mandeep Singh. After years of knocking on the doors of the India team, the Punjab batsman will finally board the flight to Harare as a member of the MS Dhoni-led squad to play in a limited-overs series in Zimbabwe.
For a player touted as India prospect even when he played in the under-19 World Cup in 2010, it will be a case of better late than never.
The 24-year-old was elated and relieved. “I had been hoping for this chance and am relieved it has finally come. I have been in good form and don’t want to lose this chance. I have to make it count and try and become a regular in the Indian side,” Mandeep told HT.
Mandeep, who was among the probables for the 2012 World Twenty20 and has been leading Punjab in Ranji Trophy in the absence of Harbhajan Singh, was in the Royal Challengers Bangalore in IPL this year but got just one game. “It was disappointing to be on the bench, but when you have cricketers like Kohli and AB de Villiers, you can’t miss the chance of making the most of their presence. Their tips will help in the long run,” he said.
Mandeep, who was the highest scorer in the Vijay Hazare Trophy one-day tournament last season, is aware that the pitches in Zimbabwe will play slow, but there will be some seam movement initially. “I have been working hard keeping in mind the nature of Zimbabwe wickets. I have been practicing playing the swinging deliveries,” said the Punjab middle-order batsman, who has aggregated 2,445 first-class runs at an average of 48.90 with six hundreds and 12 fifties. His 394 runs in seven
His impressive Vijay Hazare run included two centuries and a fifty.
There was a time when Mandeep felt dejected his career was not going anywhere. That was when his mentor and current national selector, Vikram Rathore, stepped in. “I felt low and disappointed, and my performance dipped. I was struggling and people were questioning my selection. In the process I tried to change a lot many things in my batting, which eventually hurt my technique and the decision backfired. That is when Vikram paaji counselled me (Rathore was Punjab coach then). Cricketers of my age were making India debuts and I was going nowhere. I paid heed to his advice and concentrated on my natural game.”
Regaining focus made a difference as Mandeep won the “Rising Star of IPL” award in 2012 after amassing 432 runs for Kings XI Punjab that season. He was hopeful of making it to the India side for the limited-overs tour of Australia early this year, but Punjab teammate Gurkeerat Mann and Himachal all-rounder Rishi Dhawan were selected. “I thought I was close to getting selected for the Australia tour, but that didn’t happen. Yuvi (Yuvraj Singh) and Bhajji paaji told me not to lose hope and go for big knocks in the domestic circuit. They felt, I was not far from national team call-up, and they were right,” he said.
With the national selectors giving opportunity to lesser-known cricketers for the Zimbabwe tour, Mandeep knows the next fortnight, featuring three ODIs and T20s, could well be make or break.