Rummaging through life, through odds, and meeting destiny: The story of Indian-born Irish cricketer Simi Singh
If you quiz an Indian kid on what he aspires to become in the future, the first words to come out would be 'a cricketer'. At one point of time, every Indian kid has dreamt of playing for the Indian team. While some work hard and achieve their dream, the majority takes a different route.
The case is no different with the cricketer in question here as he dreamt of playing for India, worked hard for it, scored a ton of runs before being dropped by his state side, left the country to study abroad, got a chance to showcase his cricketing skills, put in even more hardwork to realize his dream of playing international cricket, however, not for India but Ireland.
This is the story of Simranjit Singh, also called as Simi Singh, a native of Punjab, who became the first Indian-origin player to represent Ireland in international cricket.
Growing up close to the PCA stadium in Mohali, Simi got attracted to the sport by watching the players train at the venue and joined an academy soon after. He became a batsman who can bowl as well and scored a lot of runs in the local leagues in Punjab and even played age-group cricket for them. In spite of scoring a lot of runs, he was never picked to play for his state side at the senior level and eventually, almost lost his path.
However, he got a lifeline to pull things back on track, courtesy a friend, who asked Simi to move to Ireland and play a season or two there. After giving the proposal a deep thought, Simi decided to give it a try and left India for Ireland in 2006.
"I grew up near the PCA stadium in Mohali. I have seen a lot of cricket being played there. When I was growing up, I got interested, joined an academy. One season, I scored a lot of runs and didn't get picked to play for Punjab. That was when I decided I need a change. I had a friend in Ireland and he called me there. He also said that it will be good for me if I can move to Ireland and play for a season there. That's why I moved to Ireland in 2006," he said.
He went to Ireland with a student visa but the road ahead was not a bed of roses for the 30-year-old. He had to take care of a lot of things which included studying, working in stores or cleaning toilets for survival. Adding to this, he was even mocked for his accent by the kids there.
Gradually, things eased up but Simi faced another issue, this time in extending his student visa. For an immigrant to get permanent residency in Ireland, he has to stay continuously for a minimum of 183 days in the country. For three years, Simi kept falling short by a few days and had to pay extra money to extend his student visa.
That was when he stepped up and started performing well for his club Malahide CC in the second division and helped them get promoted to play Division 1 cricket. A couple of years later, he got a call from YMCA, a top-tier club and they helped him get a two-year work permit. The 2013 season was a breakthrough for him as he scored around 800 runs and picked up 55 wickets.
Simi also holds an ECB level 2 coaching degree and is a certified personal trainer.
"It was very difficult because I had to cook for myself, work, study and play cricket at the same time. It was very tough at the start and things got better gradually. I went over as a student and after few years, I got a work permit with a cricket club and I had to stay on a work permit for five years till I became an Irish citizen. I was coaching the kids at the club and later on became a personal trainer last year," he added.
After spending over five years in Ireland on a work permit, Simi was eligible to apply for citizenship, which he did in 2016 and got it approved earlier this year. Simi's performances attracted the eyes of the Irish selectors and without any second thought, he was added to the Ireland A squad for their tour of England in April. Soon after, he was picked in the Irish national team to play New Zealand and Bangladesh in a tri-series before the 2017 Champions Trophy and made his debut against the Kiwis in Dublin.
"I was playing first-class cricket for the past few years and have been scoring a lot of runs and taking wickets on a consistent basis. But, I wasn't qualified to play for Ireland till 2015 and when I became eligible to play for Ireland, I was picked for their A team in 2016. There were no matches then and earlier this year, we toured England to play in Bristol. I scored runs there and when I came back, I was picked in the Irish squad for the tri-series against New Zealand and Bangladesh. It was really amazing and emotional because I waited so long and I had lost all the hopes that I will play for Ireland. And when it happened, I couldn't believe it. It was really satisfying," he admitted.
After making it to the Irish team, Simi has set his sights on being a part of Irish cricket history and wants to play in Ireland's first ever Test match, against Pakistan next year, and has also expressed his desire to play in various T20 leagues around the world.
"The goal for me is to just stay in the team when we play our first ever Test against Pakistan next year. The long-term goal will is to do well and establish myself as a cricketer. I have made it to the team and I would like to do well at the international level, show my potential to the whole world, play leagues around the world including the IPL. That's my next aim," he conceded.
Before Ireland play their first Test match, they will be taking on West Indies, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and six other teams in the ICC World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe, where out of the ten teams, only two will join the top eight teams in the 2019 ICC World Cup.
Just like his skipper William Porterfield, Simi was also quite vocal about ICC reducing the number of teams in the World Cup to just 10 and feels that the move will make the tournament less exciting.
"I think we have played against all the teams that will take part in the qualifiers and we are preparing hard to get into the World Cup. We have some new players coming up and our team has the right blend of youth and experience. We are confident of doing well in the qualifiers and qualify for the World Cup. Last time, we had around 14 teams playing in the World Cup and it was really good. When you have more teams involved, it will be very exciting. With lesser teams, the excitement factor goes out of the equation," he opined.
India is a country that has a lot of people who consider Cricket their religion and for someone who was born and brought up in Punjab, this shouldn't come as a surprise. However, in Simi's case, it was completely different as the Irish international, who was in Bangladesh with the Ireland Wolves team when he spoke to Sportskeeda, was surprised to see how big the sport is in this part of the World.
The only time fans across the world get to see Irish players in action is during an ICC event. In spite of that, Simi is confident that Irish cricket, and the cricketers, will gradually gain a lot of support across the world.
Talking about the difference in Cricket culture in India and Ireland, Simi confessed, "It is completely different. If someone plays Football or Rugby in India, they don't really get that much attention. It's the same in Ireland. If you play Cricket, you won't get that much attention when compared to countries like India or Pakistan or any other sub-continental country. Right now, we are in Bangladesh and we realize how big Cricket is in this part of the World. Sometimes, it is demoralizing and at the same time, the sport is growing and is getting popular. In general, a lot of people don't know about Cricket in Ireland.
"But, the Cricket community know who you are and you will get attention from them. Most of our matches are telecasted on TV across the World. For example, if I play well against India, I will get more attention in India and if I do well in those matches, who knows, I may be approached by an IPL team. We still have good opportunity to prove ourselves against the teams that have a huge number of followers like India, Pakistan and Australia."
Quite a few Irish players have made a mark in the county circuit. The likes of Ed Joyce (Middlesex and Sussex), William Porterfield (Warwickshire), George Dockrell (Somerset), Paul Stirling (Middlesex), Niall O'Brien (Leicestershire) have been playing in the County circuit for a while, courtesy the fact that the Irish players were considered homegrown players not long ago.
However, after attaining a full membership of the ICC, they are now considered as overseas players and it might be difficult for the Irish cricketers to play in the County Championship in the future.
When asked about his plan to play in the County and whether he was approached by any team in the recent past, he said, "With the Test status, the Irish players are considered as overseas players in the County Championship. Before the Test status, we were considered as home players. It is very difficult for us now because we are competing against players from countries like Australia, South Africa etc. I haven't been approached by anyone till date."
He has only played a handful of official matches but has been a prolific run scorer in the domestic circuit. In the last six months, the right-hander has scored eight centuries including his maiden first-class ton, for Ireland Wolves against Bangladesh A, recently.
Simi, whose idols are Sachin Tendulkar and Saqlain Mushtaq, is here to stay and if he keeps up his good work, Ireland should consider themselves lucky and thank India for this gem of a player.