IPL fairytale: Tennis-ball cricket to RCB, auto-driver’s son picked for Rs 60 lakh after bid war

NEAR THE end of the IPL mini-auction in Kochi Friday, there was a sudden buzz with Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) getting into a paddle war for an unknown pacer from Jammu. RCB finally pushed the tag up to Rs 60 lakh to sign 24-year-old Avinash Singh — a tennis-ball cricketer who started bowling with the leather ball only about 10 months ago.

Around 3,200 km away, Avinash was watching the auction at his home with his family. He had predicted that he would be picked by an IPL team. But with his name not figuring in the uncapped player’s list, the family was getting anxious and his irritated father Ashok Singh, an auto-driver, quipped: “Chal, cricket ka bukhaar utaar aur Canada nikal (Go, get over this cricket fever and start packing for Canada).”

Minutes later, the auctioneer Hugh Edmedeas said: “We have Avinash Singh for only Rs 20 lakh.” RCB raised the paddle, and KKR joined the bidding before the Bengaluru franchise came up with the winning bid. “I was confident that I would get picked although I didn’t know which team would do it,” says Avinash, speaking to The Indian Express over phone.

“In September, there was an RCB trial in Mumbai…They loved my bowling action. I did well in the camp. The fastest I bowled was 154.3 kmph. After that, I was called by KKR, LSG and DC as well; those trials also went well. I was fully confident,” he says.

This Cinderella story started a year ago.

In December last year, after another failed physical test for the Army, a distraught Avinash planned to move to Canada. His father took a loan from relatives, and he was to start the visa process after getting his passport.

Then, in the first week of February, Avinash went with his friends “for fun” to a cricket academy run by Mayank Goswami, a former J&K player. Although he was known for his pace in the tennis-ball circuit, this was the first time Avinash was bowling with a leather ball. “Meri toh aankhe fati rah gayi (My eyes almost burst out). Then I asked a couple of other coaches about his bowling. All of them were stunned,” says Goswami, speaking to The Indian Express from Jammu. “After being involved with the game for almost two decades, you just know if you see someone special. There was an X factor in Avinash.”

Avinash Singh with his coach Mayank Goswami. (Special arrangement)

Goswami urged Avinash to join his academy, but the youngster never showed up. “I wanted to join the Army, cricket was just a hobby. I never played with the mindset that one day I might have to play professionally,” says Avinash.

There were other pressing reasons as well.

“I was planning to go to Canada, and my father also was against this idea (of cricket). I didn’t have money to buy shoes with spikes. Our financial condition is not good. Two of my brothers are studying, I was doing nothing. My father was the sole breadwinner. He asked where would you buy a kit from. He was right, cricket kits are costly. So, I started making excuses to Mayank sir,” says Avinash.

After a week or so, Goswami sent one of the academy coaches to Avinash’s house. “He told me about their financial condition. I requested him (Avinash’s father) to give him a year, and if nothing happens, send him to Canada,” says Goswami, laughing.

After observing the bowler for a couple of weeks, the coach gave him a train ticket to Pune to meet Ashok Gaikwad, a renowned coach and biomechanics expert. “My only concern was he has never bowled with the leather ball, and whether his body would be able to sustain the speed. He stayed there for two weeks. Ashok sir gave him a list of do’s and don’ts, and asked him to follow it,” says Goswami.

The coach shares another interesting story about Avinash. “When I gave him the ticket, he said ‘Sir, I have never been away from Jammu and you are sending me to Pune’. I laughed and told him, ‘Just think that you are going to Canada’.”

Once he returned from Pune, Avinash made “rapid improvement” in his lengths and pace. “From March to June, we worked on his pace and by the time RCB came for the trials, he was ready and swept them off their feet. Lucknow, Delhi and even Kolkata, they wanted to keep him as a net bowler and put him in the auction next year. But RCB were adamant, and that’s why they went hard for him,” says Goswami.

“He is already working with RCB trainers and physios. He has been given the schedule for the next three to four months, and they are monitoring him,” he says.

A day after the auction, Goswami is reminded of the “Cinderella story”. “He came to my academy for fun. I was there, I saw him bowl, he was reluctant, father was against him playing cricket, we chased him down, and in nine months, he is a celebrity here.”

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