Punjab Ranji team has the right mix of experience and youth, says coach Munish Bali

Nitin Sharma

Munish Bali during practice session at PCA on Thursday. (Source: Jasbir Malhi)

It has been more than four months that Munish Bali took over the role of Punjab team’s coach. The former India U-19 assistant coach, who has also worked with teams like Andhra Pradesh, knows that his main challenge in this year’s Ranji Trophy will be to steer the Punjab team into the knock-out stage. With Punjab ready to begin their campaign against Rajasthan at Jaipur on Monday, Bali sounded confident about Punjab doing well in the tournament.

“The team has the right kind of mix of experience and youth. Players like Mandeep Singh, Gurkeerat Mann, Siddharth Kaul and Sandeep Sharma know their responsibility in the team and are eager to help the youngsters too. It was the decision of the team management apart from the PCA to have a rotation policy and the players like Sandeep Sharma also understand that it is for the betterment of the team. The players know their role in the team and we would like to start our campaign with a win against Rajasthan in Jaipur. We are also playing our home matches at Patiala, apart from one match at Mohali. Pacers Siddharth Kaul and Sandeep Sharma are in good form and our spin attack is also strong. Mayank Markande knows that he has a huge responsibility this year and I am sure he will lead with example,” said Bali.

Bali had taken over the role of the coach of Punjab team in July this year and his first major assignment was the Vijay Hazare Trophy. The team, which saw the absence of skipper Mandeep Singh in the initial matches, won five of first seven matches in the tournament. However, a rain-curtailed match against Tamil Nadu, where Punjab was in winning position, hindered the team from advancing into the semi-finals. Punjab, which had scored wins over strong teams like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Baroda and Bali, sees this as a good step for the team.

“When I took over, I had a clear plan that we have to create a bigger pool. Our two teams competed in the JP Atray Tournament and both the teams reached the final. It helped me form the core of the team which competed in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. In Vijay Hazare Trophy, Sandeep Sharma took seven wickets against Haryana, apart from claiming four wickets against Maharashtra. Siddharth Kaul took five against Delhi and it showed that our pace bowlers were in fine form in white ball cricket. Spinner Karan Kaila too had a good outing with the ball and also played some crucial knocks in the tournament. We were a bit unfortunate that the match against Tamil Nadu was washed out with Punjab at 55 for 2 in 12 overs and chasing 72 runs in 20 overs. Tamil Nadu qualified for the semi-finals as they had more number of wins. The fact that we were in the race for semi-finals boosted the confidence of the team,” shared the Patiala-based coach.

Last month, Punjab reached the Super League stage in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 trophy and with players like Shubman Gill and Anmolpreet Singh hitting some quick-fire knocks, Bali believes that the team is on the right path. “If we talk about T20 cricket, it was one format where the team was struggling since the last 2-3 years. As compared to other teams, we had only 4-5 players who have played in IPL and our focus was to use our abilities to our strength. We qualified for the Super League and played some close matches against teams like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, apart from the performance against Mumbai in the last Super League match. Chasing 244 is always a tough task in T20 format but our boys showed that they have the talent. We were in the game till the 19th over and to score 221 chasing 244 speaks of the team’s talent,” added Bali.

The Patiala coach has also worked with players like skipper Mandeep Singh, pacers Siddharth Kaul and Sandeep Sharma apart from youngsters Shubman Gill and Abhishek Sharma since their junior days. The coach sees this as an advantage for him. “Obviously it helps that I have been working with most of the boys since their junior days. I was the coach of Punjab U-16 and U-19 teams, in which players like Mandeep Singh, Siddharth Kaul, Sandeep Sharma and Anmolpreet played, and I know a lot about their game. Youngsters like Shubman Gill and Abhishek Sharma too have played in the junior teams coached by me and the most important thing is that these players know how to win matches. They have the temperament to excel at the national as well international stage and this will help Punjab team in the future too,” said Bali.