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Being a part of the Lucknow Super Giants camp during IPL 2022 gave me the belief that I belong to that level: Swapnil Singh

Swapnil Singh will be making a return to the the IPL after a gap of almost six years and has been picked up by the Lucknow Super Giants ahead of the IPL 2023 edition.

Swapnil Singh
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Swapnil Singh
Rupesh Kumar
RUPESH KUMAR

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Back in the day, when there were no traces of T20, an individual aspiring to earn his bread by playing cricket in India had to grind it out on the domestic circuit and hope that his performances were bright enough to catch the attention of selectors. 

For a player to really make a name for himself in the pre-IPL era, he had to persevere and sweat it out to get his hands on the elusive India jersey. There was hardly any better way to become a household name and secure a living if you wanted to spend the rest of your life on a strip measuring 22 yards and changing appearance quite akin to Mystique.

To dare and chase such a dream seemed like taking a punt which deterred even the most ardent admirers of the game. But the advent of the Indian Premier League has certainly made the punt far more rewarding and a comparatively innocuous affair than what it originally was.

The inception of the IPL has breathed a new life into the career of a typical India cricketer chancing his fate in the domestic circuit. Apart from serving as a stage to script a comeback for players who had once dazzled brightly on the global stage the IPL has become a breeding ground for raw talent driven to make a name for itself.

Over the years, the IPL has given many fairytale beginnings by serving as a platform for many uncapped Indian cricketers to announce themselves to the world. But not all those beginnings meet a fairytale finish.

Kamran Khan, Manzoor Dar, Paul Valthaty are some of the names that had got off to an incredible impetus but couldn't capitalise on that start and never managed to script a remarkable return. As tragic as it may sound but the list is unending and paints a very heart breaking image of the harsh reality that exists.

But not every scintillating start meets an excruciating end because of the setbacks that come along the way. Some manage to endure those setbacks and give themselves a chance to rise again like a phoenix.

One of those names happens to be Swapnil Singh - a player who featured on the team sheet of Kings XI Punjab (now Punjab Kings) during the 2016 and 2017 edition. But got lost in the demanding circles of India's domestic circuit for the next six years.

Unfazed by the let-down, Swapnil held his spirits high and kept grinding it out in the domestic arena and the sound off his bat and the same emanating from his fizzing off breaks became so deafening that it didn't go unheard and Lucknow Super Giants roped him in at the IPL 2023 auction.

In a free-wheeling chat with CricTracker, Swapnil opened up on his return to the IPL, how Irfan Pathan helped him to secure a place in the Uttarakhand squad after he was dropped from Baroda's set-up, his previous IPL stints, biggest disappointment and so much more.

Excerpts:

What are your earliest cricketing memories?

I started off at a very young age. I used to play in Lucknow and then I shifted to Baroda just for my cricketing career. In fact, my whole family shifted to Baroda. I got into the Baroda squad at a very young age. 

I started playing the age groups under 14, 17, 19 and I don't know if you know it or not, I'm the youngest player to play Ranji Trophy at the age of 14 years. It has been a very good journey. I started off really well, but then had a dip, and I am back on track again.

You made your first-class debut at a fairly young age of 14 years. But you could only play 76 games in the next ten years. What do you think would have potentially been the reason behind it and do you feel that it impacted your development as a player?

I am a firm believer in the saying that 'whatever happens happens for the good'. Firstly I got picked just because I had an incredible U19 season wherein, in five games, I took 33 wickets and scored 200-300 runs and our left-arm spinner Rajesh got injured.

So that is when I got a breakthrough. It was kind of a blessing in disguise, as somebody got injured, I did well, and there was no left-arm spinner in the state squad and I got the opportunity to play one game. After that, I was again back to the U19s.

So, the development was quite slow because there were very less players who could have guided me. Hence, my development took time and then in 2014 I made a comeback. Since then I've been playing regularly.

You were a part of the 25 probables for the 2008 U19 World Cup but couldn't make it to the final squad that flew to Malaysia for the tournament. How disappointing was that experience?

Obviously, it was very disappointing because we had won the U19 Cooch Behar Trophy back then and I was leading the side. Just after that the U19 India squad was announced for the World Cup. I was extremely disappointed that I could not find a place in the squad despite doing reasonably well in the last (then) few U19 India tours.

Have you developed any new bowling variations, if yes how much do you rely on them? 

So, I have developed quite a few variations. I mean like obviously slow balls and all almost everyone has but I've started bowling carrom (ball) as well which I developed last year and used quite a lot this year to the left-handers because it becomes easier for the southpaws to score off against the left-arm spinners.

Hence, we need to have a delivery that could go away and that's why I have developed it and looking forward to using it in the upcoming IPL.

When you got dropped from Baroda's team, Irfan Pathan was the one who helped you in finding a place in the Uttarakhand side. How do you reflect on that entire period?

Yeah, it was a very difficult phase. The entire 2020 season was extremely tough for me as a player. Just prior to that season in 2019 I was one of the top three all rounders in the whole domestic season in white-ball cricket with statistics. So, I was highly disappointed by not being picked up by the Baroda side.

So, Irfan bhai (Irfan Pathan) helped me tremendously. We have played a lot of cricket together and he knows me inside out. He gave me the mental support that I needed. Irfan bhai also helped me in improving my batting as well as my thought process. He guided me as to how I can be more dominant in the batting department in white-ball cricket.

So, I mostly bat at no. six or seven. Even if I play in the IPL I'll be batting at the same position which is a very tough position and he himself has done it for India. So, the insights on how to play white ball cricket and with what intensity really helped me in growing as a cricketer. His contribution has been immense and he is like a big brother to me.

Which is your most cherished cricketing performance?

My first century against Mumbai in Mumbai (Group C, Ranji Trophy 2017 game) at the Wankhede. I got the opportunity to bat at number five and it was given to me by Deepak Hooda, who was leading our side at that time and I scored 164. So, scoring a ton against a side like Mumbai at the Wankhede felt very special.

Secondly, I bagged a five-wicket haul against India Blue while playing for India Red in the Duleep Trophy final in 2018 and helped them win the tournament. These two are easily my most cherished performances thus far. 

You played in the IPL during the 2016 and 2017 edition. You have been a part of two different team managements in the form of Kings XI Punjab and Mumbai Indians? How did those stints helped you as a player?

When I joined Mumbai Indians I was very young and do not remember much of that experience. It hardly benefitted me as a player. My time at KXIP really helped me in improving my range hitting and that was my biggest takeaway from those two editions.

But the moment when I realised that I belong to this level came last year when I was a net bowler in the Lucknow Super Giants' camp. It hit me quite hard. Firstly, I didn't want to go but Irfan bhai was the one who convinced me and gave me a broader picture.

After spending two months in LSG' set-up I got the realisation that I belong there and it showed in the domestic arena in 2022 and my performances this year have been a reflection of it.

Back in the day when you were a part of the Kings XI set-up it had some big international superstars like David Miller, Hashim Amla among others. Is there any advice of theirs that helped you and you still remember vividly?

I was quite nervous while entering the KXIP dressing room. But after a couple of days I got to know Hashim Amla. We used to sit together for breakfast.

You won't believe me, he used to sit with me every day for 1-1.5 hours and would talk about the game and also life in general. He is an unbelievable guy. The way he simplifies things is just incredible.

I still talk to him and the interactions I have had with him have helped me improve as a cricketer and also as a human being. Sharing the dressing room with a player of such stature was a humbling experience for me.

You are making a return to the IPL after a gap of almost six years. How do you think you have changed as a player during this period? 

I have changed a lot. Firstly, I was doing really well in domestic cricket. Like I mentioned earlier, I was doing really well as an all-rounder in 2019 and 2020, I was one of the top-three all-rounders in white-ball cricket though I did not get the opportunity to play in the IPL but I kept growing as a cricketer.

I can say that 2022 has made me a tough cricketer and a tough human being. I'm very close to Deepak Hooda because we used to play for the same team (Baroda). The time that I spent in the LSG camp alongside him during the IPL helped me in rediscovering myself.

I was able to find myself, Deepak and I are very similar to each other. Our attitude on the field is very identical - being very hard and always into the face of the opposition. I had lost that element as a player but after reuniting with him I got the same spark back.

Which is your biggest disappointment as a cricketer?

The fact that I was not considered for selection in the IPL and could not bag an IPL contract despite doing well in the domestic circuit during the 2019 and 2020 calendar year remains my biggest disappointment. 

Do you have a message that you want to send across to all the youngsters out there who are trying to make a name for themselves in the Indian domestic circuit?

Just keep working as hard as you can. Be goal-oriented. Learn to stay alone. Be with yourself and also with only those people who share the same vision as you.