AHEAD OF the Duleep Trophy final last week, India Red’s pacer Nathu Singh looked back at his debut IPL season last year with a hint of regret. He recalled the days of boredom he spent alone at a plush Mumbai five-star hotel room. The IPL had begun with its usual pomp and gusto, but the 21-year-old boy from Sikar, near Jaipur, cut a forlorn figure. An elbow injury had shattered his IPL dream.
It was a cruel blow, considering just three months ago, the tearaway quick was snapped up by Mumbai Indians for a whopping Rs 3.2 crore. “I really don’t care about the money. All I wanted to do was to play in the IPL. The injury came at a wrong time,” he says. This was the 21-year-old’s first real brush with stardom. Surrounded by a wealth of Indian and international players made a star-struck Nathu withdraw further into his shell. Loneliness had begun to gnaw him. Those long, lonely nights in his hotel room only made it worse. Luckily for him, helping hand came from an unlikely source — England wicket-keeper Jos Buttler.
“Seeing so many players from around the world was an entirely new experience for me. I took time to adjust to the new surroundings. It was only towards the end that I managed to befriend Jos,” he gushed. He admits how initially it was difficult to break the language barrier with Jos. It took a while before boy from rural Rajasthan could pick his team mate’s Brit accent. In return, Nathu too would respond in his typical “tuta-phuta” English. In the month-long tournament, Buttler became a lonely Nathu’s best friend. The two would discuss cricket, and among other things, eat and shop together.
However, not being able to converse fluently in English had perturbed him. He wanted to join a English-speaking course. “Thoda ajeeb lagta hain. Mujhe bhi English seekhna hain. Agar time milta hain toh mein English speaking classes mein bharti hona chahta hoon…dekhte hain (It feels a bit strange. I want to learn English. If time permits I will join a English-speaking course),” he quips. It was a candid confession coming from a young fast bowler, who only during the start of the Ranji season last year, had made heads turn with his ability to bowl consistently at over 140kmph. He was, however, not sure if the busy domestic calendar would grant him the luxury.
Nathu has always been an unabashed Shoaib Akhtar fan. However, his gait, languid style and rustic charm evoke memories of another fast bowler — Munaf Patel. A decade back, Munaf, like Nathu, began as an fast bowler, with the impassivity to break a few bones. When asked about his similarities with the Baroda pacer, Nathu’s face lights up. “Yeah, people do tease me a lot. They keep saying…tu toh Munaf jaisa hi dikta hain. Uske jaise fast bowler bhi ban gaya. Frankly, I have never thought of such comparisons, but it is funny,” he explained. Even their batting abilities, or the lack of it, bound them together. Despite Munaf’s glorious induction into cricket, the Baroda pacer’s career was cruelly cut short by a series of injuries. He was conscious of not going the Munaf way, and admitted the elbow injury was an eye-opener for him. “All my seniors and coaches have advised to take my fitness seriously. Every aspect of my training is being monitored — from my exercise routines to my diet. I have chalked it out in detail,” he explained.
Having missed the IPL, Nathu did not set the stage alive in the recently concluded Duleep Trophy. Barring his six-wicket burst in the opening game against India Green, he couldn’t live up to his lofty expectations, finishing with just 8 wickets in three games. But Nathu was not overtly perturbed. He believed that he was bowling at just 50 per cent of his full potential, and added he was getting close to bowling at full tilt. More than the lack of wickets, it was the number of no-balls, which had taken the sheen of his efforts. In the first two games alone, he had overstepped 15 times. “I am very much a rhythm bowler. Once I get into my rhythm, I can bowl quick, and I don’t overstep.” Despite these irritants, Nathu was clear about one fact — his quest of bowling quick. Not surprisingly, he has got unequivocal support from his seniors. “Yuvi paaji has always told me to never compromise on my pace. I want to keep bowling fast,” he explained.
Looking ahead, Nathu was excited at the upcoming Ranji season, which was scheduled to begin early next month. He knew that a prolific season would just be the perfect recipe to quell away all the negativity he had harboured earlier this year. Before that however, he would like to take time from his rigourous training schedule, and get himself enrolled in one of the spoken English classes at his hometown in Jaipur.