A YOUNG JOURNEY
Anmolpreet Singh averages over 58 in 19 first-class matches © Getty
There’s an inside joke in the Mumbai Indians camp where they refer to Anmolpreet Singh as ‘Set-preet Singh’. It had started because of his Punjab teammates Barinder Sran and Yuvraj Singh. According to them, Anmolpreet is already set and has his eye in even before he walks out to bat. Considering the first over he faced on the third day of the Duleep Trophy encounter against India Red had four superbly timed cover-drives, it’s hard to argue against the nickname.
It’s no one less than Sachin Tendulkar who has given validation to his technique. When Chennai Super Kings were in Mumbai for the IPL 2019 clash, Mahela Jayawardene and Tendulkar were having a discussion behind the batting net on the match eve. The youngster hadn’t had a chance to bat that evening but forced Robin Singh to give him some throwdowns. “On the match day, Sachin sir came to me and met me at the stairs at Wankhede. He told me he saw me bat the previous evening and was fairly impressed with my technique. I hadn’t met Sachin sir before that. I was surprised and felt really, really good,” he tells Cricbuzz.
Anmolpreet has made a steady rise in his journey towards India A. He represented India in the Under-19 World Cup in 2016 before a cracking first-class debut followed. He started with a half-century on debut and then followed it up with scores of 113, 267, 12, 40 and 252 not out. In 19 games, his first-class average is now over 58 with 1515 runs in the bag where he has had five centuries and six half-centuries. The start, however, was driven by a fear Anmolpreet had to live through for two years while he waited for a call-up to the Punjab Ranji squad.
“Even before my first-class debut, I had played the Under-19 World Cup in 2016. I had also scored about 1200 runs in the Cooch Behar Trophy. I always had the belief that I will be fine at the higher level and I was just waiting for the Ranji Trophy call up. I felt bad that I didn’t get a call and we didn’t qualify for the knockout as well. I didn’t get a chance for two years. There’s a lot of competition in Punjab. When I went in, I had this fear that if I don’t start well, I’ll be pushed down again,” he says. “At times, I think I missed out on a triple ton (252* vs Services in 2017) but the team had to declare. Bura toh lagta hai (I do feel bad).”
Anmolpreet had missed a golden opportunity to make a mark in the Under-19 World Cup final in Dhaka. Having sat out till the quarterfinal, and having given up hope, he was presented with an opportunity in the knockout game. He scored 41 in the quarterfinal and then went on to bag the man of the match award in the semifinal after scoring 72. In the final, though he was dismissed for 3 by Alzarri Joseph.
“I had given up hopes of playing. I didn’t think I would play,” he says. “Rahul Dravid sir kept motivating me but he also said ‘I know you’d do well if you get a chance’. The first three matches went away and I felt that was that. I am not sure what sir thought and gave me a chance.
“I was too desperate to grab that opportunity. I was too desperate to perform well but, unfortunately for me, he delivered a good ball. I don’t think much about it now. Jo reh gaya, woh reh gaya(whatever is gone, is gone). I am here with you and there’s nothing else on my mind at the moment.”
But a chat with Dravid after the final was what really prepared Anmolpreet for the first-class grind. “He kept telling me to work on my mental game. He said the technique is there but I need the mental strength to make it at the level higher,” he reveals. “You know what I look for the first thing in the opposition now? The quality of the bowling attack. If they have good bowlers, I always feel I want to go head first in that challenge. I know I deserve to be here.”
The last few months have been particularly good for Anmolpreet after a brief slump in 2018. It started with a century against Bengal in January but he found his rhythm against Sri Lanka A when he struck an unbeaten 116 and then followed it up with 65 and 60 in the next game. An unbeaten 85 followed in a List A game and he’s also scored a match-finishing half-century against West Indies A in Port of Spain.
On Sunday, he fell for 56 and that led to an India Blue collapse. Having not lost a single wicket in the first session, they slipped from 193 for 3 to 208 for 8. He had thrown away his wicket – out stumped – trying to take on Akshay Wakhare. His focus now shifts to the series against South Africa A in Thiruvananthapuram and he’s already set an agenda for himself. “I need to work on my application,” he reveals staying candid about his deficiencies.
The Punjab youngster isn’t shy from admitting he’s enjoyed his stint in limited-overs cricket so far with India A. An average of more than 48 and a strike rate of more than 100 in 18 matches have helped him amass 771 runs. He’s now looking to make a splash with more consistent knocks to stay in contention for higher honours with the likes of Shubman Gill and Ruturaj Gaikwad.