On January 20, 2020, Punjab were staring down the barrel with the scoreboard reading 32/5, less than an hour before the lunch break on the second day of their Ranji Trophy 2019-20 clash against Gujarat. The top three batsmen were back in the shed and the duo of Anmolpreet Singh and Gurkeerat Singh Mann were removed for ducks. The onus was on Punjab skipper Mandeep Singh and wicketkeeper Anmol Malhotra to resurrect the innings.
Mandeep Singh fought his way to a 120-ball 56 and in the process, put up an imperative 106-run partnership with Malhotra. The Punjab captain's efforts and a fine century from Malhotra (119*) helped Punjab to 229, conceding a relatively smaller 52-run lead in the process.
Mandeep Singh rates that 56 and a 71 against Kerala as a few of his most memorable knocks, and also stresses on how he was waiting to continue his form for the Rest of India squad. At least, until the lockdown put a halt on cricket.
The KXIP batsman was at his absolute best during the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy season as he converted starts into big knocks and amassed 696 runs from eight matches at an average of 69.60. In arguably the best shape of his career, Mandeep Singh was bound to make an impact in the Irani Trophy and in IPL 2020.
The Punjab skipper, in an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda felt that a couple of impressive performances with ROI could have opened up doors for an Indian Cricket Team return, suggesting that he is a touch disappointed by the lack of cricket currently. However, he still remains optimistic of his chances, whenever they come by.
"My first focus was to do well for Rest of India, and then IPL. I was picked for the Irani Trophy after 3-4 years, and it was important for me to do well and carry my form forward. I feel if I had done well for ROI, the doors would have opened for my comeback. Little disappointing, but it's not in my hands. Everyone's safety comes first and we need to fight it out," Mandeep Singh said.
However, since then, he hasn't played for the senior side and is still awaiting his next opportunity.
Mandeep Singh was picked in India's squad for the home series against New Zealand and then against England in early 2017, but could not make the playing XI. Yet, despite missing out on match time, the stylish batsman is staying focussed on doing what remains in his control.
"I wasn't disappointed that I wasn't picked. I knew I needed to score more runs and bat better so that when I come into the team next, I get a chance immediately. I have no complaints, I realise I need to score runs and converts starts into big knocks. I have worked on becoming more sound technically and sharpened my skill of defending the ball" the Punjab captain said.
Mandeep has enjoyed a fine couple of months in terms of form, having piled on heaps of runs in the domestic format. Having proved his ability to quickly switch gears in the IPL and the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Mandeep Singh brought out the fighter in him during the Ranji Trophy.
However, things threatened to turn pear-shaped a few years ago. Back in 2017, Mandeep Singh's hopes of joining the India A squad for a tour of South Africa took a hit when he was diagnosed with disc prolapse. The KXIP batter went under the knife to treat his recurring injury and returned to the field only a few months later.
However, the right-hander could not carve out a path to make a national team comeback on his return to cricket post surgery. And now, a couple of years later, Mandeep Singh feels he is in the perfect mental space after churning out some quality knocks against tough oppositions on tricky pitches during the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy season.
The Punjab skipper feels he now has a renewed sense of confidence every time he walks out to bat and is looking forward to making the most of the opportunities that come his way.
"A few seasons back, I was making decent runs but I feel I wasn't doing enough for the international level. This year, after a lot of seasons, I feel I am looking good.I felt I was in great form. If I get a chance to play for the India team again, I think I can do well," Mandeep Singh added.
Mandeep Singh believes his utility is his biggest strength
Primarily a top order batsman, Mandeep Singh's ability to feature in the playing XI as a utility player is arguably his biggest advantage. Having played in the top order and middle order for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, he's had to slot into the middle order for the Kings XI Punjab.
"I feel this utility player factor can help me. I prepare to play at every position, but it is difficult to bat at 5, 6, 7 in T20 cricket. It is a challenge but I am always prepared to take it head on. In 2011, Vikram Rathour told me to prepare for all situations and do well. I take that seriously, and maintaining harmony is key for me," he said.
While he admittedly found it hard to attack the bowlers from the first ball while coming in to bat during the slog overs, he's had some time to prepare for such a role in the net sessions.
With some help from good friend and KXIP teammate KL Rahul, Mandeep Singh claims that he's worked on fine tuning his ability to hit the long ball from the get-go. However, while speaking on the topic of his preferred batting position when he does make a comeback to the Indian Cricket Team, Mandeep Singh is happy to pour hours into training for the particular role he is given.
"Being a top order batsman, I have confidence to play at the top. I'm not sure of my role at KXIP for this IPL season, but I am ready to prepare for any role that is given to me. For me, preparation is key and it certainly gives me confidence," said Mandeep Singh.Published 30 Apr 2020, 11:42 IST