Robin Singh: Not just a bits & pieces cricketer
Every era in cricket produces a certain genre of cricketers who are unique to that era. Like the 1970s & 1980s produced great fast bowlers, the decade of 1990 produced two unique style of cricketers. One, of course, were the pinch-hitters like Sanath Jayasuriya who would go all-out in the first 15 overs in a bid to score the maximum runs while the field restrictions were on.
The second category of players unique to the 1990s were the so-called bits and pieces cricketers. These were players who could ball & bat a bit but were not all-rounders in its true sense.
New Zealand had the likes of Gavin Larsen who was a trailblazer in this category, similarly the Australians had Tom Moody. The Indian cricket team’s hunt for this category ended with the return to international cricket of a Trinidad-born player by the name Rabindra Ramanarayan Singh in 1996.
Robin Singh as he was better known as was India’s answer to the Larsens & Moodys of the world. Understanding his international career is nothing less than solving a jigsaw puzzle. A career which began in 1989 and ended in 2001 had only 5 years of active international cricket is surprising, to say the least.
Two ODIs & an anxious wait for seven years
After his first two ODI matches against the West Indies in 1989; he was kept out of the team for close to seven years for reasons best known to the Indian selectors. In these seven years, Robin Singh kept performing in domestic cricket. But it was only an injury to Sourav Ganguly in the Titan Cup in 1996 that got him back in Indian colours again.
Fans would recall that his comeback match at Mohali against the Australians was a must win game for India. Robin Singh could only manage 6 runs with the bat but his real contribution in the match was with the ball.
He got rid of Mark Waugh and Stuart Law off consecutive balls and thus put the much-needed breaks on the Australian innings that had reached 84 runs without the loss of a wicket. Indians went on to win the match by 5 runs and qualified for the finals. In the finals too, Robin Singh took two crucial wickets to help India lift the Titan Cup.
His finest years : 1996-2001
For the next five years, Robin Singh was a regular in the Indian one-day team. With the bat, on certain day’s he was India’s go-to man when the stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar & Mohammad Azharuddin had failed.
And on other days, he was used as a pinch-hitter. One day he was a pinch-hitter at number three trying to lift the scoring rate and the next day he was trying to help India set up a competitive score by slogging it out in the last 10 overs of the innings.
Over the years, Robin Singh played many good and selfless innings as per the need of the hour. However, there are two innings which come to our mind whenever we talk about him. The first one was when he saved India from a certain defeat against Zimbabwe in 1997 at Paarl. Batting at number 8, Robin Singh scored 48 runs from just 31 balls; an innings which helped India tie the match.
His other famous innings came against arch-rivals Pakistan in the Independence Cup finals at Dhaka in 1998. Having been promoted as a pinch-hitter after the fall of Sachin Tendulkar, Robin Singh stitched together a match-winning partnership of 179 runs with centurion Sourav Ganguly.
In the process, he scored 82 runs at almost run a ball. India went on to register a famous victory by chasing down 315 runs.
Although his role with the ball was to fill up for the fifth bowler; but quite often he ended up doing much more than that. He could break crucial partnerships with his medium paced accurate bowling. He would give the captain that extra over when the regular bowlers had been punished by the opposition batsmen.
Be it with the bat or with the ball, he was a complete team man. But we won’t be doing justice to Robin Singh - the cricketer, if we fail to acknowledge his role as a fielder. At a time when the Indian team was known for anything but fielding, Robin Singh brought in a new energy.
Along with Ajay Jadeja & Mohammad Azharuddin, he was one of the best fielders in the Indian team. He would invariably save that extra 15-20 runs which would prove decisive in the end result of the match.
Mysterious exit from international cricket
The fact that Robin Singh played only one test match for India will remain a mystery much like his absence from the Indian one-day team for the first half of the 1990s. Talking about mystery, the reason for his exit from international stage will always remain difficult to comprehend for his fans.
The official reason for his dropping was given to be his age. But at 37 years old during his last ODI against Australia, he was one of the fittest members (if not the fittest) of the Indian team.
Though he had begun his international career as a bits and pieces cricketer, by the time he hung up his boots in 2004; he was definitely something more than that. He would be remembered as a cricketer who gave his 100% in all departments of the game. We won’t be wrong in saying that Robin Singh had multiple faces as a cricketer and he played all the roles with immense dedication.
Post retirement, Robin Singh has taken up full-time coaching. He was the fielding coach of the Indian cricket team in 2007-09. He also coached the Deccan Chargers (2008) & Mumbai Indians (2009 onwards) in the IPL and the Caribbean Tridents (2013 onwards) in the CPL (Caribbean Premier League).
Given his liking for attacking batting, miserly bowling & breathtaking fielding; it would have been interesting to see how he would have fared in T20 cricket. But for now, he can relax and congratulate himself on being a true servant of cricket.