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RP Singh Retires: An effective bowler whose talents should have been utilized more

ANALYST
Feature
995   //    Timeless

England v India - 4th Natwest One Day International Series
RP Singh had it all to make India a winning unit with the ball

You've probably seen him analyzing international matches in the last couple of years - as has a whole generation of cricketers who captured the imagination of India's youth in the 2000's. RP Singh appeared to be a natural successor to Indian left-arm great Zaheer Khan.

But the irony was that RP Singh had played his last international before Zaheer Khan's last international in either format. Let's just go back in time and get to know more about Rudra Pratap Singh, as he retires from all forms of cricket today.

A sensational beginning

When Greg Chappell became India's coach in mid-2005, his main motive was to push youngsters and uncapped players. As a part of this policy, Zaheer Khan was dropped after an ordinary outing in the Sri Lanka tri-series in August that year.

RP Singh was handed a debut in an inconsequential game against Zimbabwe, leading up to the final of the Videocon Cup in 2005.

He impressed with his late swing and dismissed Zimbabwean right-handers and mainstays Vusimuzi Sibanda and Hamilton Masakadza.

But his golden day came in just his third match for India, an ODI at Rajkot against Sri Lanka later that year. RP finished with 4 for 35 and was named the Man of the Match.

Two months later, he made his Test debut on a belter in Faisalabad. With figures of 4 for 89 in Pakistan's first innings, RP was again awarded man of the match.

He replicated his Rajkot performance in the 4th match of the subsequent ODI series in Pakistan, and suddenly became the talk of the town.

More than lack of substantial performances, RP was affected by India's rotation policy and abundant resource pool.

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He bowled a couple of match-winning spells in the year that followed. But just months before the World Cup (in 2007), Zaheer Khan was back in full flow and RP Singh could unfortunately not get his name on that squad as even a fourth or fifth seamer.

He didn't lose heart and continued performing in the domestic circuit.

A natural wicket-taker

RP Singh was a natural wicket-taker, to say the least. His stock delivery was the one that swung late into the right-hander.

That was good enough as the majority of batsmen in oppositions during that phase were right-handers. He was also good with the yorker and was a specialist death-overs bowler in the limited-over formats.

RP would take wickets on more days than not, provided the bowler at the other end was putting pressure on the batsman. RP formed a match-winning partnership with Sreesanth - even if for a limited period of time.

The reason both bowlers were potential wicket takers was a wicket-to-wicket line, a fuller length and the ability to swing the ball late.

This was contrary to the norm that was picking up at that time - hit the deck hard - something many Indian bowlers tried aping at that time, looking at the success of overseas bowlers.

He clicked when it mattered the most

Some of India's best days in international cricket came when RP Singh was in form. He was one of the leading-wicket takers during India's dream run in the inaugural World T20 in 2007, taking 12 wickets in just seven matches.

He bowled crucial spells in the virtual quarterfinal against home team South Africa, where his spell of four wickets in a low-scoring match sealed India's place in the semi-final; and in the final - when he got both Pakistan's openers with dream deliveries in the opening spell, and bowled a tight finishing spell and the crucial wicket of dasher and leading wicket-taker Umar Gul.

In what could have ended as a disastrous test series of Australia, RP Singh took 13 wickets in the first three games.

After humiliating losses at Melbourne and Sydney, his six wickets at Perth registered a historic victory for India - one that is remembered to date.

He was the leading wicket-taker in both the first and the second season of the Indian Premier League - which also led his team Deccan Chargers to their first IPL title.

Selectors should have stuck with him

RP Singh's case was similar to that of another Indian great Ajit Agarkar. He was constantly in and out of the side and was usually used as a backup option for injured bowlers.

This, despite the fact that he could turn lost causes in India's favour, which he proved time and again.

After India scored low in an ODI decider at Lord's in 2007, RP got both England's openers with a bouncer and a back-of-the-length delivery. He even got three wickets in a tied ODI at the same ground four years later, before he was permanently shown the door.

RP Singh formed a formidable partnership with bowlers who would attack the stumps - such as Sreesanth.

But sadly, the selectors stuck with defensive bowlers who could contain the run rate. That is perhaps another reason why India could not earn the tag of world beaters even after winning all the three ICC tournaments within six years.

Effect on youngsters

RP Singh - otherwise an introvert - has always been instrumental in grooming youngsters. A great example of this is one of India's budding stars with the ball - Jasprit Bumrah. Having moved from his home team UP to Gujarat, RP would always take care of the youngsters and provide them with useful tips, which Bumrah confessed. Their magical partnership helped Gujarat win their maiden one-day title - the Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2015-16.

On a cold late December night in 2015, RP Singh derailed Delhi's chase in his opening spell with four wickets. Watching that spell, I was gutted as to why team India kept ignoring such a bright talent that was routing an international-batting lineup.

Bumrah finished the lower order with five wickets, and that performance catapulted him to national selection. RP also led Gujarat to their maiden Ranji title and picked four wickets in the final - his last competitive game.

I wonder how much more RP Singh - who has retired from all cricket at just 32 years of age - could have offered to Indian cricket, only if they had backed him. I still hope BCCI avail his services, at least in the form of an occasional bowling consultant.

I am sure some team in some part of the world definitely would. In any case, RP would make sure he shares his experiences and insights with all cricket lovers to make cricket an even contest between bat and ball.

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