Three months after he snaffled all 10 wickets in an innings against Arunachal Pradesh, 18-year-old left-seamer Rex Singh became the first cricketer from Manipur to earn the India U-19 stripes. A player from the Northeast taking baby steps in competitive cricket is an inspiring sight. It’s a vindication of cricket’s untapped potential in the region, hitherto a hub for combat-sports and football. The only cricket ground in Imphal is a ramshackle maidan. Rex, like most poster-boys from cricketing backwaters, emerged despite the system, not because of it.
Though the cricket board had initiated several grass-root programmes for the development of the sport in the region since the turn of this decade, Rex traced an uncharted route, shrugging off an unsuccessful taekwondo stint and embracing tennis-ball cricket before getting noticed by a neighbourhood cricket coach. Amidst strife and curfews, endemic to many Northeastern states, he was fascinated by the magical swerves and patterns of the hard, red leather ball. The rest of his game he developed watching YouTube videos. He was fortunate that his emergence coincided with the inclusion of his state in the Ranji Trophy, consequent to the board adopting Justice Lodha’s recommendations.
Rex has busted the popular prejudice that the inclusion of newbies from a non-cricket playing region would dilute the competitiveness of the league. These players might not match or challenge the traditional cricketing powerhouses, in infrastructure, talent or the quality of the game, but exposure would only encourage talent. They must be allowed time to blossom. Now they have a poster boy to adore and emulate. The path from the Northeast to the Indian cricket team is no longer too long.