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IPL 2024: Late Bloomer Shashank Singh Has No Regrets, Father Rues ‘Mumbai Lobby’

IPL 2024: Punjab Kings' Shashank Singh does not regret waiting 32 years to earn recognition. His father disagrees.

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At 32, most cricketers contemplate post-retirement plans. Investments. Vacations. Vocations.

And then, there is one Shashank Singh. Outlier. Anomaly. Aberration.

At 32, in many ways, his career has only taken flight, after an exemplary 29-ball 61 which turned the tables on Gujarat Titans on 5 April, in a way that tricked the Narendra Modi Stadium into nearly replicating 19 November-esque silence. In a Punjab Kings team, who are not strangers to throwing the towel during run-chases in the Indian Premier League (IPL), a new saviour had arrived.

Shashank knows he bloomed late. And he has no regrets about it.

Shailesh Singh knows his son bloomed late. And, to date, he laments one particular decision – the switch from Chhattisgarh to Mumbai.

The Quint spoke with both to find out about the journey.

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The Simple Boy From Bhilai, in Star-Studded Mumbai

In 1991, when Shashank was born, Bhilai was still a part of Madhya Pradesh – Chhattisgarh's independent identity was nearly a decade away from realisation. He started playing cricket at the age of five, following the 1996 ICC Cricket World Cup.

Father Shailesh Singh, an IPS officer currently working with Madhya Pradesh Police, sheds light on it.

I have always been a big fan of cricket. When India lost the 1996 World Cup semi-final to Sri Lanka, I was very hurt. Shashank was only a little kid at that time, so I turned to him and thought, why not get him into cricket?
Shailesh Singh, Shashank Singh's Father

Soon, he made it to the Madhya Pradesh U-15 team, and then the U-17 team. In local circuits, Shashank became a popular figure, with the connotation of being the state’s next big thing.

Before he could make his debut for the Madhya Pradesh senior team, Shashank had to leave for Mumbai. The reason being – Shailesh Singh’s transfer to the office of Additional Directorate General of Foreign Trade, at the Marine Lines.

The protagonist of one state was now a mere afterthought in an already star-studded team.

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A Father’s Anguish

In Madhya Pradesh, Shailesh Singh jubilantly celebrated his son's remarkable knock, basking in the sudden limelight that had engulfed Shashank overnight. Yet, amidst the euphoria, a sense of remorse lingered, casting a shadow over the festivities.

It does feel good to see his hard work finally paying off, but all of this could have happened many years ago. That’s the only regret I have. He has always been a good player, it is not that Shashank magically transformed into a great batter last night.
Shailesh Singh, Shashank Singh's Father

Ten years ago, Shashank found himself helplessly navigating the cricketing landscape of Mumbai, searching for opportunities.

He was batting really well in Mumbai. In one of the local matches, he even got a triple century. I thought his future was secure, but little did I know how the ‘Mumbai Lobby’ works. Despite consistently scoring runs, he never got enough chances in the Mumbai team. The only reason for that was Shashank came from Chhattisgarh, he was not a localite.
Shailesh Singh, Shashank Singh's Father
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Nearing the age of retirement, Shailesh says he has seen enough to realise the world is more about ravages than rainbows.

I believe in Gresham’s law – bad currently drives out good currency from the market. I have been in the force for many years, I have seen a lot of things. To be successful, you need to know the twisted ways of the world. That’s the harsh reality. Can a plain and simple person become an influential politician? It is not possible. Similarly, there is politics in cricket which I came to realise, but Shashank was just too plain and simple to tackle it. He avoided any sort of controversies. He suffered alone, he cried alone, but never raised his voice.
Shailesh Singh, Shashank Singh's Father
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But Shashank Debunks Theory of Prejudice

Shashank represented Mumbai in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, scoring 95 runs at a strike rate of 172.72 in only his maiden campaign. He also donned the Mumbai shirt in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, but never in the Ranji Trophy.

He believes it was owing to the fierce competition and the presence of better batters, contrary to any prejudices being at play.

I played in the Vijay Hazare Trophy and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy for Mumbai. I had a good four years there. I could not get into the red-ball team, but that was due to the competition. Suryakumar Yadav, Shreyas Iyer, Shivam Dube, Siddhesh Lad – everyone was scoring runs. Mumbai was winning.
Shashank Singh

Albeit, he admits it took a toll on him emotionally.

At one stage, you do realise that you want to play first-class cricket too, and not just white-ball cricket. That was when I decided to return to my home state, Chhattisgarh. It was a difficult phase, I won’t say that it wasn’t. It was more difficult emotionally than anything else. But at the end of the day, everything went well.
Shashank Singh
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During the period when Shashank was vying for a spot in the Mumbai squad, the likes of Suryakumar Yadav and Siddhesh Lad were regular features. The batter believes he was nowhere near the pair in terms of ability, which served as a harsh-yet-crucial reality check.

Responding to another question, he said:

I got self-belief from my Mumbai stint, because previously when I played for Madhya Pradesh, I was the best player there. MP cricket was not as strong back then as it is now. But in Mumbai, you have got to have belief in yourself because the competition is so high. Mumbai gave me a reality check of where I stand. When I saw the likes of Surya and Siddhesh batting, I realised I was nowhere near their level. It was an eye-opener.
Shashank Singh
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Struggle in Mumbai Made Shashank the Player He Is Today: Coach Devendra Bundela

Having patiently waited until 2019 to earn his much-awaited Ranji Trophy debut, Shashank scored his maiden, and to date, solitary first-class century under the stewardship of Devendra Bundela, the former Madhya Pradesh player who was Chhattisgarh’s coach until last year.

Sharing his opinion about Shashank’s Mumbai tenure with The Quint, Bundela said:

I prefer to have a positive outlook. Shashank might not have had many opportunities in Mumbai, that is true, but I believe the struggle Shashank had to endure there played a role in making him the player he is today. Some get instant success in cricket while some wait for many years. Shashank has had to wait, but he has finally got his chance.
Devendra Bundela

Echoing similar sentiments, both Shashank's former coach and his father share the belief that Shashank's recent stellar performance could signify the beginning of a new and extraordinary chapter in his career.

‘The Shashank Redemption’ – as it is being termed.

Punjab Kings would dearly love it, for they are aiming to script their own redemption arc.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  IPL   Indian Premier League   Punjab Kings 

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