Karnataka v Uttar Pradesh, Ranji Trophy quarterfinals, Bangalore January 7, 2014

Is the old RP back?

RP Singh's image has suffered since he played a brief and forgettable part in India's infamous 2011 England tour. Leaner and back in rhythm, the Uttar Pradesh left-armer looks to change public perceptions once again

RP Singh. Unfit. A talent stalled. A fast bowler gone astray. MS Dhoni's favourite pick. These are some of the immediate conclusions everyone, not just critics and the media, drew as soon as RP's name comes up. At some point in the past RP did struggle to find his rhythm, his pace and lost his place in the Indian team.

But that was RP in 2011, the last time he played for India, during the tour of England when he was rushed from a vacation in the US after Dhoni told the selectors he wanted a left-arm seamer in place of the injured Zaheer Khan.

As a replacement RP did not make many more headlines. He then missed the entire domestic season last year, sidelined by a knee injury. At 25, RP was still young, but he had just played 14 Tests and fewer ODIs than Ravindra Jadeja, who had made his limited-overs international debut four years after him. He was a dangerous bowler in the IPL at times, but RP could not translate that into his performances in first-class cricket.

Surely those questions would have clouded his mind during his lengthy wait. This week RP has the opportunity to change those widely held perceptions about him as he leads Uttar Pradesh in the Ranji quarterfinals against favourites Karnataka.

The UP selectors decided to put RP in charge instead of Piyush Chawla, under whom the team managed just two outright victories during the eight-round league stage. The fact that RP did not play in UP's final two group matches did not matter to the selectors, because they had seen enough of him in the first six rounds, in which he took 21 wickets including a five-for in his final match in Kolkata against Bengal.

The extra responsibility might just bring out the best from RP. It will give RP, one of UP's senior-most players, more onus to provide direction to the team.

"There is a bhook (hunger) inside him, since he has not played the last two matches, and this match is important for him. I feel he has been bowling with good rhythm and strength and am positive he will take wickets," says Ashish Winston Zaidi, the former UP fast bowler and captain and currently the team's manager.

A fast bowler is hungry to take wickets every match and Zaidi says he has seen that killer instinct in RP. According to Zaidi, RP has the aura and experience to handle the players and different match situations, which could prove important during knockout matches.

As a bowler RP's biggest strength remains his ability to swing the ball both ways. He is not Mitchell Johnson but his accuracy, when he is in rhythm, can pose batsmen awkward questions. Zaidi provides the example of RP's spell against Baroda in early November at Moti Baug Stadium, on a pitch where the ball was turning square and bouncing unevenly. Only eight wickets fell to fast bowlers, and RP got six of them.

"They had prepared a completely spin-friendly track but he managed to swing the ball in to the right-handers and surprised the batsmen. I remember this guy who left the ball and was bowled," Zaidi says.

During the training session today RP wore an effervescent smile as he conversed with coach Venkatesh Prasad. RP did not bowl at full pelt, but kept his focus more on hitting the right length, which Prasad reckons is a warning sign for Karnataka over the next five days. "The moment he bends his back he hits an outstanding length and it is extremely difficult to play that length. The ball that comes back in to the right-handed batsmen is lethal and that is what I told him today," Prasad says.

The pitch in Bangalore has a greenish tinge, but the grass was being shaved by late afternoon. The bounce is likely to be good, but batsmen should enjoy themselves as the pitch dries. Prasad is not worried because he says he has seen RP extracting movement out of a virtually dead surface in Rajkot against Saurashtra, in a drawn match that produced 1000-plus runs. "It was absolutely flat. We made a plan to bowl short and have a leg slip and short leg and attack. RP executed that superbly," Prasad says. "On such a track he was getting the ball to bounce and move. He could not get the wickets but still the effort was outstanding."

Time away from work perhaps prevented RP from getting disillusioned and encouraged him to work on his consistency. "It is frustrating to sit out when others are playing," Prasad says. "But he took that in his stride, worked hard on his fitness and that is why he looks leaner this season."

Prasad believes RP is still one of the best left-arm seamers in the country. Zaidi, meanwhile, is confident RP will wear India colours again. It now remains for RP to go and make the headlines this week without feeling the pressure of those expectations.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 8, 2014, 8:19 GMT

    RP Singh, I Pathan, P Kumar, M Patel....are finished products, they don't have the appetitie enough to succed neither they are fit and strong enough to survive the 5day Test matches, for the replacement of Zaheer Khan (left amrer)..BCCI and the cricinfo writers should shift their focus to someone like Pawan Suyal.....Suyal is an out an out fast bowler who operates in ranges of 136-142kph (decent as per indian standards)with zip and accuracy... a bowling attack comprising of Umesh, Aaron, Shami, Suyal, Rahul, Pankaj Singh should be ideal as all these guys can hit 136-144kph mark (make it 138-148 for Aaron and Umesh) along with B. Kumar, R Dhawan and Pandey as their support provided they can enhance their pace to atleast in 131-137kph ranges....no place for Bowlers like Praveen, Unadkat, Pathan or any other who bowls in 120-125kph range.

  • Naresh on January 8, 2014, 7:20 GMT

    We once won a T20 WC in SA, this was partly due to some great bowling by RP Singh. India needs a good left armer - I had high hopes when Zaks came back, but he is not the wicket taker of the past.

  • Subramani on January 8, 2014, 4:40 GMT

    IndCrab I am not sure what you mean when you say that he needs variation ! He can swing the ball both ways. He bowls from an easy action and revs up to 145 kmph when he is fully fit as he was in England and Australia in 2007. And he bowls a good yorker and slower ball when needed.What he suffers from is a lack of motivation. That is what needs to be addressed. When he was brought in as a replacement for Zaheer in England in 2011, he was holidaying in the US and had put on a lot of weight. Obviously indulging too much in the good life. That is where he got a bad press. Anyone can lose his motivation if he thinks that his time is over. He is just 27 and if he comes to peak fitness he can be very good for another 5 years. The important thing however is for him to stay rooted. He is one of the most natural left arm pace men I have seen in India. he needs to speak to a sports psychologist than anything else other than going for long runs daily. I am sure he will be back.

  • R on January 7, 2014, 18:45 GMT

    RP is a spent force. He simply can't bowl sustained, aggressive spells. Heck, even in the IPL, he bowls slower after only a couple of overs. You have to be joking if you are mentioning him as a replacement to the peerless Zaheer Khan. Whereas Zaheer knows his game inside out, RP has lost focus. He is enjoying the IPL riches performing only once in a while. his performance is mediocre, to say the least. 21 wickets in 6 matches whereas others have nearly 40 wickets this season.... You got to be kidding me.

  • Dummy4 on January 7, 2014, 18:17 GMT

    He is not Mitchell Johnson but his accuracy, when he is in rhythm, can pose batsmen awkward questions....No kidding :)

  • Dummy4 on January 7, 2014, 17:53 GMT

    OMG if RP can get pushed like this then what about poor Pankaj Singh who has been performing every season for the last 4 years ? He is more deserving than a over hill RP Singh

  • Dummy4 on January 7, 2014, 17:48 GMT

    As Zaheer is not going to last much longer and is going through the last stages of his career, I hope that RP Singh comes good in his second coming as a bowler. Also, as a left-armer he is the only fast bowler I can think of who can replace the great Zaheer Khan as all the others are right arm fast bowlers. RP Singh at his best can be one of the most difficult bowler to face on the international circuit if he can keep his form and fitness intact. Similarly I would hope that Irfan Pathan and Praveen Kumar after regaining their fitness recapture their old form for the good of Indian cricket. A fast bowling contingent of RP, Irfan, Zaheer, Praveen, Shami, Yadav, Aaron, Pandey, B.Kumar, I.Sharma looks much better as it provides the fast bowlers with adequate back up as well.

  • menon on January 7, 2014, 17:20 GMT

    Good Bowler ,, but he needs variation and subtle change of pace and angles to become a good left armer. Last couple of seasons he was really a one dimensional bowler

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