But Thursday morning at the PCA Stadium, Mandeep wasn’t his usual self. Looking grim he was involved in a deep discussion with coach Arun Sharma. With Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh heading to Mumbai for India’s pre-Test series camp, Mandeep, rather unexpectedly, got the leadership responsibility. And on the eve of the game against Bengal, Mandeep’s boy-to-man transformation was taking place.
The Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) wanted Harbhajan and Yuvraj to play the game, however, the BCCI had turned down their request.
Coach Arun Sharma said that the absence of the Big Two would certainly be felt by the team but this also provided the youngsters with an opportunity to make a mark. “Harbhajan had been with the team last season so he knew strengths and weaknesses of the players. We certainly miss his leadership. In Harbhajan’s absence, leg-spinner Rahul Sharma will secure the berth in the playing XI. Having beaten Hyderabad in the last match, we would like to carry forward the momentum,” Sharma added.
In the last match Punjab’s outright win over Hyderabad could be attributed to big knocks by Jivanjot Singh and Karan Goel. With the a greentop laid out for the clash, it remains to be seen if Punjab will really miss off-spinner Harbhajan, who was wicketless in the first innings and got three in the second.
Bengal, meanwhile, will be banking on Manoj Tiwary, Wriddhiman Saha, Dhinda and Laxmi Ratan Shukla to deliver. In their drawn opening match, Bengal secured the first inning lead against defending champions Rajasthan. Bengal coach WV Raman said that they would be keen to take the extra step in their second game. “Now is the time to build momentum. There is always stuff which could have happened and might have happened in the first match. The important thing is to we need to keep improving it’s a long season.”