The week leading to his breakthrough selection in India’s under-19 squad was rather uneventful for Rex Singh. Intense protests, followed by the blanket imposition of curfew across Manipur over the Citizen’s Amendment Bill had crippled life in this northeastern state.
During this period, Rex would remain confined with his family at their residence in Sagolpan Moirang Hanuba, a sleepy town on the fringes of Imphal. The embargo not only provided the teenager a rare break from cricket, but also meant his father RK Doren Singh, a truck driver by profession, remained back home. Such a scenario gave Rex’s family – comprising his parents, an elder sister a and younger brother—a chance to spend some quality time together.
On Wednesday afternoon, curfew was finally lifted and protests were called off in Manipur after the Rajya Sabha was adjourned without tabling the bill. “I know there’s something known as the citizenship bill, but please don’t ask me the details. All I know that this curfew gave me a break from cricket and a chance to spend some time with my family,” the 18-year-old quips. Amidst this came news of his selection in the India A U-19 team for the upcoming four-day matches against the South Africans that begins in Thiruvananthapuram on February 20, making him the first Manipuri to be selected in an Indian cricket team. For Rex, this call-up came as a bolt from the blue. “ I was not really expecting it,” he admits.
Cricket’s big break in Northeast
In Manipur's first season in India's premier domestic season, they have produced a player of Rex Singh's calibre, who is deemed good enough to represent India at the U-19 level. This comes after the BCCI decided to toe in with the Lodha panel’s recommendations that saw the induction of seven new teams including those from the Northeast.
In a state known for its footballers and boxers, Rex’s rise is heartwarming. While growing up, his parents weren’t sure about his cricketing aspirations. In fact, when he was barely 9, Rex joined a club to learn taekwondo. That stint would last for only a couple of months. Barely two years after that unsuccessful stint, tennis-ball cricket attracted the 11-year-old.
“At first, my parents were apprehensive of me playing tennis-ball cricket with older boys. They asked me to focus on studies. But I was a restless kid, and was enamoured seeing boys bowling with a tennis ball.”
Rex would have his way, and as luck would have it, coach PS Rohendro Singh, who runs a cricket club nearby, spotted the left-arm pacer toiling away against much older boys. He got him under his wings and with time, Rex picked up the subtle tricks of swing bowling. He made rapid strides, and four years later, found himself in Manipur’s U-16 team. “Till two years back, we would play one or two tournaments in a year. I was just 14 when I represented my state against Bihar in an U-16 tournament,” Rex notes.
A five-wicket haul on debut made people sit up and take notice of his talent. Since then, he has grown from strength to strength, smashing a plethora of records along the way. In a Cooch Behar Trophy match, he made ripples by accomplishing the rare feat of picking all 10 wickets in an innings against Arunachal Pradesh. Following that, he picked up hat-tricks in consecutive games—first in an ODI against Puducherry and then in a four-day match against Arunachal.
He and Manipur made their Ranji Trophy debuts last season, where his returns were tepid. However, it’s his ability to get prodigious movement off the red ball that has got everyone excited. One of them is Manipur coach Shiv Sunder Das, the former India opener. “He gets a lovely shape, and can swing it both ways. Having watched from close quarters, I’m impressed about his energy levels. He is passionate and looking to improve. He bowls in the early 130kmph. But I’m confident he can put on a couple of yards,” the coach says.
Going forward, Das is hopeful that Rex’s selection will open the door for more players from Manipur . “I think this is just the first step. There’s tremendous talent in Manipur, and this season they were inducted to play Ranji Trophy, which was another step in the right direction. I will not be surprised to see more players coming up from this state,” Das observes.
For Rex, playing non-stop cricket from a young age has come at a price. It meant he will take some time to finish his formal education. “I am yet to give my Class XII board exams. Last year, I missed out because I was playing a Cooch Behar game. This year, my exams are scheduled on February 18. But I have been selected for the U-19 tournament against South Africa that begins on February 20,” he adds.