Rinku Singh is not your archetypal, tattoo-inked aggro-brandishing young cricketer. He has an Indian Premier League contract with the Kolkata Knight Riders, but unlike some of his peers, he has not quite elicited a frenetic bidding war among franchises on auction day. Off the field, he comes across as soft-spoken and reticent, almost to the point of being diffident. He admits getting nervous while facing the camera and hates giving interviews. He is, in many ways, an antithesis to the current crop of brash cricketers who relish the spotlight. Rinku prefers to let his bat do the talking. On the field, the 21-year-old undergoes a metamorphosis, exuding supreme confidence, bordering on sheer insouciance.
On a crisp winter afternoon at Lucknow’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana International Stadium, all these traits came to the fore, underlining the dominant form that the left-handed middle-order batsman has exhibited for Uttar Pradesh through the course of this season. In the quarterfinal against heavyweights Saurashtra, the hosts had their backs to the wall, gasping at 54/4, before Rinku forged an exceptional rearguard innings to register his fourth century of this season, and fifth of his nascent first-class career of 19 matches.
By the time he was dismissed for a 181-ball 150, with 19 boundaries to his credit, Rinku had given the Uttar Pradesh bowlers something to bowl with on Day 2. When stumps were drawn on the opening day, Uttar Pradesh were handily placed at 340/7, which looked improbable when they lost their first four wickets for next to nothing.
There were notable contributions from Priyam Garg (49) and Upendra Yadav (26). But Rinku’s knock tilted the scales in Uttar Pradesh’s favour on Day 1. He took his season’s tally to 953 runs, accumulated at a staggering average of 119.12. Rinku attributes the purple patch to his fruitful stint he had at the KKR camp in Mumbai, where he spent hours practising and talking about batting with the likes of Dinesh Karthik and Abhishek Nayar.
“I had a pretty ordinary Vijay Hazare Trophy last year. After that, I went to Mumbai to attend a camp for KKR. There I spent 5-6 hours batting with DK and just talking about batting and improving my game. Apart from him, there was Abhishek Nayar as well, and their inputs really helped my game. They spoke about things like building an innings and imbibing virtues like patience in the longer format,” he explained at the end of the day’s play.
Following that stint, Rinku made a pact to himself — score 1,000 runs this Ranji season. He had his opportunity on Tuesday, before a lazy shot brought about his dismissal. “My target is to cross the 1000-run mark this season. Mera 950 runs toh poora ho gaya. I had my chance to cross it today, but I missed out.”
What makes the knock even more special was the sight of Cheteshwar Pujara applauding his efforts. Rinku’s story is a triumph of will and determination as he rose from a humble two-room quarter within the premises of an LPG distribution company’s storage compound near Aligarh Stadium, where his father Khanchandra was employed. When he walked out to bat on Tuesday morning, Uttar Pradesh were in strife and Saurashtra’s two experienced bowlers in Jaydev Unadkat and Dharmendrasinh Jadeja seemed difficult to handle. But Rinku showed remarkable composure to weather the early storm. “There was no pressure on me when I walked out to bat. Yes, we were struggling and had lost four wickets, but I was scoring runs and felt confident about myself. I just played my natural game,” he asserted.
What helped him further was the presence of roommate and friend Garg at the other end. After beginning on a cautious note, it was in the afternoon session that Rinku came into his own, asserting himself on Saurashtra with his sublime strokeplay. He tore into Unadkat, creaming him for four consecutive boundaries in the 36th over to race to a half-century. Even though he slowed down a bit as he approached the three-figure mark, he looked composed and was never rattled by what was dished out by Saurashtra. The 145-run alliance for the fifth wicket with Garg steadied the ship, and soothed the nerves in the dressing room. “I trust him (Garg) a lot. We are roommates, and we speak a lot about batting. So it helped having someone like him at the other end,” he observed.
A striking aspect of Rinku’s batting was the ease with which he played Saurashtra’s spinners. He countered them using his nimble footworkon numerous instances. Once he went past his century, he unfurled some delectable inside-out drives and back-foot punches through the off-side against them. “Spinners khelne mein mazaa aata hain,” he chipped in. Rinku credited his success in quelling Jadeja to the ample practice he got after facing Uttar Pradesh left-arm spinner Saurabh Kumar at the nets. “Playing someone like Saurabh bhai in the nets helps when you’re up against a bowler like Jadeja in a real-match situation,” he offered.
Brief Scores: Uttar Pradesh 340/7 (Rinku Singh 150, Priyam Garg 49: Jaydev Unadkat 2/65) vs Saurashtra.