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The Rise and Rise of Rinku Singh

Rinku's standout performance for KKR in the last IPL season showcased his ability to handle pressure with finesse.

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In the landscape of Indian cricket, certain players emerge as shining beacons, and in recent months, Rinku Singh has become one such luminous star. His journey, exemplifying hard work and determination, is an evolving narrative that holds great potential.

Rinku has transitioned from being an explosive IPL (Indian Premier League) dasher at the end of last season to a potential successor of MS Dhoni's finishing prowess, capturing the cricket fraternity's attention. As the T20 World Cup looms, the whispers for Rinku's inclusion in the squad are growing louder, prompting a closer look at his performances and the challenges he might encounter.

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Rinku's standout performance for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the last IPL season showcased his ability to handle pressure with finesse. His sensational display against the Gujarat Titans, where he smashed five consecutive sixes in the final over to secure an almost impossible win, underscored his potential as a game-changing finisher.

While Rinku caught everyone’s attention in the 2023 IPL season, he played a crucial role for the Knight Riders in the 2022 season as well. In seven matches, he accumulated 174 runs at a commendable strike rate of 148.72. 

This IPL brilliance led to his inclusion in the national team in August 2023 against Ireland, where Rinku swiftly displayed his skill. His batting prowess was further brandished in India's clash against Australia, amassing 105 runs in five matches later in the year. In the fourth match of that series, Rinku smashed 46 of just 29 balls taking India to the winning score.

The pinnacle of his performance, in 2023, however, occurred during the second T20I against South Africa, in which Rinku put up a remarkable display, scoring an unbeaten 68 off 39 balls, featuring nine boundaries and two sixes. Notably, one of these sixes shattered the glass of the media box! His knock boasted a striking rate of 174.36.

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What sets Rinku apart from most youngsters is his ever-evolving mindset towards finishing games. In the recently concluded T20 series against Afghanistan, he wasn’t once dismissed and remained unbeaten with scores of 16 and 9 in the first two matches. In the third game, when the team was in dire straits at 22 for 4, he stitched a remarkable, record-breaking 190-run partnership with captain Rohit Sharma and remained not out at a solid 69.

Given Rinku’s remarkable feats even in the international arena, India’s star off-spin bowler, R Ashwin, recently called him a “left-handed Dhoni.” Though he was quick to point out that such comparisons are premature, Rinku definitely displays similar composure. Interestingly, his life and cricketing career till now have reflected glimpses of the former captain's career. Rinku comes from a humble background, just like Dhoni, and is the son of an LPG delivery man, with his brother being an auto-rickshaw driver.

Their playing style and the way they burst onto the international scene also bear resemblance. Rinku caught the BCCI selectors’ attention after successful IPLs, akin to Dhoni's early impact. Experts like even the legendary Sunil Gavaskar feel that his performances so far point to a career trajectory that might mirror Dhoni’s.

Expressing his desire to emulate Dhoni’s ability to close out matches and secure victories for India, Rinku stands out among his peers. His willingness to shoulder added responsibility and embrace the role of a finisher indicates a level of maturity beyond his years. Perhaps the biggest compliment and vote of confidence in one’s abilities comes when even your peers and rivals, who are potential Indian stars themselves, express their admiration for you. At a recent press conference, Tilak Verma, the talented, rising Indian middle-order batter, said “I am learning how to finish games from Rinku as he is doing it consistently for India.”

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As India gears up for the T20 World Cup, Rinku's name becomes increasingly prominent in discussions about squad selection. The prospect of having a dynamic finisher in the lineup, someone who can turn the tide in crucial moments, is undoubtedly appealing for the Indian team. Rinku's ability to adapt to different match situations, evident in his recent exploits, positions him as a valuable asset for Team India.

Moreover, Rinku's aspirations aren't limited to the T20 format alone. Beyond the IPL feats, Rinku's domestic record speaks volumes. His impressive average of 57.57 in first-class cricket, with seven centuries and 20 half-centuries, demonstrates his ability to bat for long hours and construct substantial scores. This solidity, often overlooked in the focus on his T20 prowess, is crucial for success in longer formats and highlights his hunger for runs and adaptability for longer, more demanding versions of the game.

Significantly, the selectors have recognised Rinku’s potential in the longer format by including him in the India 'A' team for unofficial tests against the England Lions. This move underscores their growing confidence in his abilities to adapt and excel in diverse cricketing conditions. It also provides Rinku with a platform to showcase his skills beyond the flamboyant T20 setting, signalling a broader horizon for his cricketing journey.

The Indian middle order, particularly in Tests, is undergoing a flux in recent times with Pujara and Rahane's careers virtually coming to an end. With Virat and Rohit also likely to retire in a few years, it’s vital to locate effective replacements for a smooth transition. Rinku's left-handedness also offers an invaluable asset. Besides adding variety to the Indian batting lineup, it's crucial for disrupting the bowling rhythm of opponents. His temperament and experience in domestic first-class cricket suggest he wouldn't be fazed by the demands of the Test arena.

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As Rinku's stars continue to shine, he will face increased scrutiny and the weight of anticipation from fans and experts alike. Adapting to the rigors of international cricket, especially in high-stakes tournaments like the T20 World Cup, demands mental resilience and consistent performances. As experts opine, there is enough work to be put in, as one needs to get better in international cricket every year.

With technical analysts and bowlers around the world trying to locate chinks in his armor, his second year at the top level will determine how far he goes in his quest for a great career. But if the striking start to his international career is any indication, Rinku seems to have the class, confidence, and commitment to succeed at the highest level in all formats.

Currently, Rinku needs to be nurtured and groomed by the senior stalwarts in the Indian team. The selectors need to invest in him for the long term. At the IPL level, he might still be available for just 55 Lakhs Rupees, but his stock has rising potential. Rinku’s trajectory in Indian cricket is akin to a meteor illuminating the night sky. As he stands on the cusp of broader recognition, His story is not just about personal success but a testament to the flourishing talent pool in Indian cricket.

His impressive domestic record, remarkable feats in limited-overs, and potential for Test cricket make him a strong contender for all-format inclusion in the Indian team. While some may argue for a slower transition, denying Rinku the opportunity would be a missed chance to unleash a player who could redefine Indian cricket across formats.

(Siddhaarth Mahan is a writer on sports who also works as an actor and filmmaker in the Hindi film industry. He tweets at @siddhaarthmahan.)

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