The practice nets in the backyard of the Singh household in Gurbaksh Colony in Patiala point to the presence of cricketing prodigies in the family. But the dozen or so trophies lining the mantle piece have come from hard toil in another frenetic sport. The trophies belong to India junior cricketer Anmolpreet’s father Satvinder Singh, a former captain of the Indian handball team.
Having represented India at the Commonwealth Championships in his playing career spanning more than 18 years, it was expected that Anmolpreet and his brother would also follow in their father’s footsteps. Satvinder’s career ended in 2000 but with him on tour most of the time, young Anmolpreet ended up spending most of his time at his aunt’s house in Patiala, a place where he would fetch balls for his cricket-playing cousins.
On Tuesday, as Patiala youngster 17-year-old Anmolpreet Singh played a match-winning knock of 72 runs in India’s semi-final win against Sri Lanka in the ICC U-19 World Cup in Bangladesh, the Singh household naturally got calls from Singh’s cousins based in Canada and Australia.
“Having played for India for more than 18 years, all I could think about was handball. But Anmolpreet would accompany his cousins to the cricket field where he would normally fetch balls for them. As a 4-5 year-old, it was the only thing he enjoyed the most and later in 2005, we got him enrolled at a club in Patiala,” says Satvinder, an inspector with Punjab Police, while talking with The Indian Express. The next decade would see Anmolpreet creating records with the Punjab U-14 and U-16 sides apart from scoring more than 1000 runs at the U-19 level in the Cooch Behar Trophy for two years in succession. While father Satvinder would ferry his oldest to nearby Chandigarh and Mohali for the state U-14 and U-16 matches, Anmolpreet’s younger brother Tegpreet would also try his hand at leg-spin and eventually make it to the state U-16 side along with his cousin Prabhsimran Singh.
Anmolpreet also showed his bowling skills in the previous match against Namibia , when he picked up three wickets.
“All three make a full team at our home nets!” Satvinder guffaws. “While Prabhsimran is a wicket-keeper batsman, Tegpreet is a leg-spinner and Anmolpreet would also bowl some overs initially,” he recalls.
Once during a match in Chandigarh, his team was bundled out for 110. After the Chandigarh side made 30 runs, Anmolpreet bowled an over and claimed two wickets. As a captain he then urged his bowlers that since he had gotten them a breakthrough, now it was their job to mop up the tail. The team would go on to win the match. Nowadays, Anmolpreet spends a lot of time bowling as well when he is at home, adds Satvinder.
And while Anmolpreet awaited his chance to get into the playing XI at the U-19 World Cup, his state coach and mentor Munish Bali, who was an assistant coach during India’s historic win in 2008 U-19 World Cup, would talk to with ward every day. “Whenever we spoke he would tell me that coach Rahul Dravid has also asked him to try bowling in the nets,” Bali says. “Of course, he was a bit disappointed about not getting chances earlier in the tournament but then we would talk about the 2008 U-19 World Cup. I would tell him how Virat too did not get many chances to bat early on, as the initial matches were low scoring and openers would bat most of the overs. And it was only in his fourth game that he got a big score against West Indies.
And Anmol was happy that he got a chance to bat at number three today,” shared Bali, who is also the head of the cricket academies for PCA.
Tuesday also saw Anmolpreet batting along with Sarfaraz Khan, a player with whom the Patiala cricketer has spent a lot of time at the domestic level. Singh’s exploits at the U-19 level has also meant that the Patiala lad won the BCCI award for the best U-19 player for two consecutive years.
Punjab U-23 coach Sunil Saggi was witness to the first time that the two boys’ paths had crossed. “It was the Katoch Shield final last year and we were playing against Mumbai at Mohali. Sarfaraz had smashed a century for Mumbai in the match and we were chasing a target of 465.
“Anmolpreet came at number three and he also hit a century. Even though we fell short by just four runs, he and Sarfaraz spent some time chatting and both players acknowledged each other’s innings. It was one of the best knocks that I have seen at the U-19 level,” he says.
Ask father Satvinder Singh about how massive this opportunity is for his son and the prospect of India possibly playing the final on February 14, and he says the medal could be the biggest in his family, putting to shade all his trophies. “We have saved each of his bats since his U-14 days. There are more than 60 bats at our home and I am sure if the team wins the World Cup, he will get his bat autographed by Rahul Dravid. That will be his most prized bat,” concluded Singh.