RP Singh looks to retrace lost steps
RP Singh placed himself at the top of the pile as soon as Steve Smith, the Deccan Chargers' trainer, asked the players to line up in front of the skipping rope ladder lying on the ground. "Way to go RP, way to go," Smith exclaimed as RP hopped across the rope effortlessly. It was nine in the morning and the defending champions had just entered the Bandra Kurla cricket ground. Impressed and enthused by their team-mate's dynamism, the squad started to clap as Smith shouted out calls of encouragement. It was a positive move by the left-arm seamer in his bid to shore up his stock, which slipped after last year's IPL in South Africa, where he was the highest wicket-taker.
RP's fortunes have dipped and soared in conjunction with his team. In the IPL's inaugural season, Deccan struggled to take off from Adam Gilchrist's blistering century at the DY Patil Stadium in Mumbai, now one of their home venues for the third season.
The team relied heavily on Gilchrist, who had to double up as the wicketkeeper and as captain for the last eight games after VVS Laxman suffered a wrist injury. Herschelle Gibbs, Andrew Symonds and Shahid Afridi promised much but flopped and the bowling department, led by the left-arm pair of RP and Chaminda Vaas, was too predictable.
Part of the reason for RP's struggle in 2008 was that he was recovering from the leg injury picked up during the Adelaide Test, a few months before the IPL. As a result, he'd be taken off the attack by Laxman as soon as he went for runs in the Powerplay and would return at the death, when the batsmen were in full flow. He ended the season as the team's leading wicket-taker (15) but had clearly lost all confidence, if not that trademark smile.
A year later, that smile would grow wider when the tournament moved to South Africa.
Though RP burst onto the national scene on the back of a terrific domestic performance in 2004, his debut year, numbers clearly highlight his favoured surface. In the absence of a conclusive Twenty20 sample, refer to RP's performances, home and away, in the ODIs. He has played 34 matches abroad, bagging 44 wickets at an average of 30. 7, while at home he has 21 wickets in as many matches at 40.80 runs each. Even his strike-rate at home (42.3) is more than the 35.2 outside India even if there isn't a big difference in the economy rate - 5.77 on the home front compared to the 5.23 outside.
Little wonder then, the faster pitches in South Africa, aided by the colder weather, helped RP capitalise on his two major weapons - swing and bounce - converting him instantly into a dangerous prospect. It was evident that RP preferred the gripping surfaces in South Africa as opposed to the slow, low and flat ones in the subcontinent.
Also, this time around he was hungrier, after the national selectors had lost faith in him during the Australia Test series in 2008, even when the Indian captain MS Dhoni publicly backed him. It also helped to have the blistering pace of Fidel Edwards and the consistency of Ryan Harris to ease his nerves at the other end.
But RP did not do himself any favours when he got a second opportunity, after the IPL. During the ICC World Twenty20 in England last year and then in the Champions Trophy in South Africa, he failed to impress, only to prove the selectors were correct in their assessment. His pace had slackened, his rhythm wavered as he resembled Britney Spears making another failed comeback.
This year, though, RP can correct two wrongs in one stroke if he can manage to inspire himself and work hard in the company of the Australian pair of Gilchrist and Darren Lehmann, Deccan's head coach.
"He is not without success in these conditions, having been the leading wicket-taker in the first year and then winning the Purple Cap last year," Gilchrist said. RP, he said, should not be too bothered about regaining his place in the Indian team for the moment. "He is more experienced and the Indian squad has a very, very competitive bunch of seam bowlers so there is competition for places there. But I don't think he should be too disheartened about not being in that team for the moment. He is one of the number of bowlers we would be looking to make an impression."
If RP's body language today was any indication, he is taking the right steps to recovery. And he has the entire team urging him on.