When he first came to Ireland eleven years ago, as a student to pursue hotel management, Simaranjit Singh would pay five euros to play at the Malahide Cricket Club in Dublin. This week when the Ireland cricket team open their campaign against Bangladesh in a tri-nation series, also involving New Zealand, Simaranjit will step onto the ground as a matter of right.
The 30-year-old all-rounder has been named in the Ireland squad for the series. Simaranjit had moved to Ireland after his cricketing dreams had failed to take off back home in Mohali. “I had enrolled for a hotel management course but would play cricket on the weekend by paying five euros per game. I worked at a grocery store so that I could afford to pay to play cricket. To be part of the Ireland team and to play at the same venue where I started off and being able to wear the national jersey is a dream come true,” Simaranjit told The Indian Express on Wednesday.
A year after moving to Dublin, he had earned his stripes and joined the Malahide CC as a professional. Getting a foothold in cricket away from home was key for Simaranjit.
As a budding cricketer in Mohali, Simaranjit showed early promise. He says he was named the ‘best player’ at the National School Games held in Vijayawada in 1999. A few years later, he kept the selectors interested when he scored 725 runs in the Punjab inter-district Under-17 tournament. But his world would come crashing down when he failed to make the cut at the U-19 level. Frustrated that his career had hit a roadblock, he cajoled his father Amarjit Singh into sending him to the American College in Dublin. A former teammate of his, Gaurav, who had already moved to Dublin, convinced Simaranjit that an opportunity existed to pursue cricket and academics in Ireland.
He did return to India to try and get back to cricket. The first edition of the IPL was around the corner, and he came down to appear for selection trials of Kings XI Punjab. But his name wasn’t included among those who were short-listed by the IPL team.
A work visa from Old Balverydale CC would mean that Singh returned to Dublin in 2009 and played for the club for the next three years before joining YMCA Cricket Club in 2012. Singh, who started off-spin bowling in Ireland after seeing the videos of Saqlain Mushtaq, would pick up 56 wickets for the club apart from scoring 786 runs in the club’s title win in the Leinster Senior Cup – a first division tournament in Ireland in 2013.
He remained one of the more consistent players and scored a total of 1608 runs and took 67 wickets in 45 matches over two years – between 2015 and ‘16. His approach to the game changed when he joined the provincial team Leinster Lightning and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Kevin O’Brien, John Anderson and George Dockrell – all Ireland capped players.
“I have been playing for the Leinster Lighting team since 2015 and spending time with players like Kevin O’Brien has helped my game. Earlier I used to play bit slow but he told me to go for attacking cricket,” Simaranjit says.
At 30, he knows that he has got a late call-up for the national team but he hopes to make the most of the opportunity. Looking back he recalls the days when he used to play against Virat Kohli and Ishant Sharma in league cricket matches in Delhi. He also did play with MS Dhoni and Zaheer Khan during the JP Atray Cricket Tournament in Chandigarh.
His father recalls how Simaranjit was determined to play international cricket. “When he left for Dublin, he also took his cricket kit along. I remember him saying ‘International cricket khelna hi hai ek din’,” Amarjit says.