Bengal v Railways, Ranji Trophy quarter-final, Kolkata, 5th day January 12, 2014

'I never used to take cricket seriously'- Anureet

From not taking cricket seriously and facing fitness issues, to emerging as Railways' leading wicket-taker and a key figure behind the team's journey to the quarter-finals this season, Anureet Singh has come a long way

Railways' Ranji Trophy campaign ended with a 48-run loss to Bengal at Eden Gardens on Sunday, but it was still one of their best seasons in recent times. Central to this success were batsmen Mahesh Rawat and Arindam Ghosh and the young fast bowler Anureet Singh.

Anureet, 25, had a breakout season, bagging 44 wickets in eight matches at an average of 17.56 and a strike rate of 47.4. At the end of the quarter-final round, Anureet is the second highest wicket-taker in the tournament, behind Himachal's Rishi Dhawan.

For the Railways bowler, this success is the culmination of years of hard work and guidance received from the Railways coach, Abhay Sharma, who helped Anureet with various aspects of his bowling.

"When I started out in first-class cricket, I was worked on by the coach," Anureet told ESPNcricinfo. "My action was a concern, so that was worked out. I was also underweight, and so I was given a proper diet. The coach and I have been working on this for almost five years and I am seeing the benefits now."

Anureet made his debut for Railways against Karnataka in 2008, and took a six-for in the game that eventually ended in a draw. Prior to this season, the most number of overs Anureet had bowled in one Ranji Trophy edition were 210.2 in 2012-13, and the most number of wickets he had taken were 21.

This season, he has bowled 348.1 overs, second only to Mumbai's left-arm spinner Vishal Dabholkar. More importantly, he has been the strike bowler for Railways, which has often meant long spells. At Eden Gardens, during Bengal's second innings, for instance, Anureet bowled 13 overs unchanged from the High Court end until tea on the third day despite suffering a groin cramp earlier in the match.

According to Abhay, Anureet's improved fitness levels were a result of specific pre-season work. "Before this season, I paid special attention to his diet, liquid intake and momentum in the run-up," Abhay said. "We worked on his action a bit, and this was done to improve his technique, because a correct technique means fewer injuries."

"I also changed his fitness programme. Last season, he was a bit more muscular. You don't need big muscles to bowl fast and it can also sometimes affect your action. Fortunately, whatever changes I have suggested, Anureet has absorbed and implemented them. That's the biggest thing for a coach. The success he has enjoyed has given him more confidence."

That constant reinforcement was crucial to the development of the bowler who did not take up cricket seriously until the 10th standard.

"I started out as a fast bowler and never really took cricket seriously before that because my family wanted me to concentrate on studies," Anureet, who is from Delhi, said. "My father is a retired professional from the Railways and it was initially difficult trying to convince them to support me, but once he saw how hard I was working, he backed me completely."

He also got the backing of Abhay early on, who spotted his talent when the fast bowler was playing at the age-group levels. Abhay helped him get a job in the Railways, paving the way for the bowler to play in the premier domestic competition. "Anureet's posting is in Mumbai so sometimes, the only way I get to work on him is when he comes to Delhi," Abhay said.

Since then, the pair have worked on keeping things simple. Anureet describes himself as primarily an inswing bowler. "I am most confident when bowling inswing," the bowler said. "In terms of targeting the other areas, I prepare according to the plans and I have worked on bowling to certain lengths."

His ambitions of playing for the national team too are firmly in place. "Every cricketer who plays cricket at this level wants to play for India," Anureet said. "I am also trying my best, I am working harder, and I am trying to improve."

Anureet's performance in the second innings had prompted Abhay to say the bowler was ready for the international level, and he reiterated that opinion on Sunday. "At times during this season, he touched 140kph. He was not so fast last season, but he has been able to build up his pace well. He has shaped up really well, and he is ready."

On Saturday, after claiming his fifth five-for of the season, Anureet bent down and kissed the turf. It's a ritual the bowler says he does every time he gets five wickets, as a means of respecting the pitch and thanking the Almighty. Railways may have been eliminated, but the bowler has plenty to be grateful for this season.

Rachna Shetty is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo