Hunger for big runs drives understated Anmolpreet

Anmolpreet Singh made a measured fifty Getty Images

Anmolpreet Singh's batting position in the India Under-19s team is No. 3, squeezed in between three established names - Rishabh Pant, Ishan Kishan and Sarfaraz Khan. Anmolpreet can easily go unnoticed whether it's because of his batting style or unfamiliarity with the fans. He didn't play any of India's league matches that were on TV, he has not played Ranji Trophy and his name was not in the recent IPL auction.

In spite of all that Anmolpreet has stamped his name on the No. 3 spot by leading India to the World Cup final with a solid 72 that helped them put on a challenging score of 267 against Sri Lanka in the semi-final. He came out to bat with the score at 23 for 1 when the Sri Lanka Under-19s pacers were nipping the ball around on an overcast morning. The score soon became 27 for 2 and India's top order was left shaken again.

Anmolpreet had a more experienced Sarfaraz at the other end but his own inexperience hardly showed. He displayed impressive technique with plenty of classical straight-bat shots and gauged the situation like a player who had already played on the Mirpur pitch.

"The wicket was tough and the ball was doing a bit. So my discussion with Sarfaraz was to rotate the strike," Anmolpreet said after the match. "Lamba leke jaana hai [We wanted to bat long] and then we could hit boundaries."

Anmolpreet's first chance in the World Cup came in the quarter-final, against Namibia, in which he scored a quick 41 and took three late wickets. Before that, he scored a heap of runs in matches that were not shown on television.

He was recently named the Under-19 Cricketer of the Year by the BCCI for his prolific run in the 2014-15 Cooch Behar Trophy. He topped the run-scoring charts with 1154 runs in 10 innings at an average of 144.25 with the help of five hundreds and two fifties; no other batsman in the tournamnt scored more than 850. One of the centuries was a mammoth effort of 322 against Jammu & Kashmir.

Anmolpreet's nature of accumulating runs is not recent. In the 2013-14 season, he had helped Punjab Under-19s lift the Vinoo Mankad Trophy with a measured knock of 79 in the final against Bengal and finished the tournament with 300 runs at an average of 50 with three fifties to his name. In the Cooch Behar Trophy that season, he finished with an average of 107.80 by amassing 539 runs from five innings with two hundreds and as many fifties.

His hunger to score big emerged during his early years in Patiala and a childhood spent following his cousins to cricket grounds to watch inter-college matches. Sports was running in the family a generation before: his father was the captain of the India handball team and represented the country from 1982 to 2000. When Anmolpreet's talent came to the fore, he joined the DMW Academy and the Black Elephant Club in Patiala to hone his skills.

"My father would guide me on how to go about things, but I have been coached by different coaches at different academies," Anmolpreet told the BCCI website last month. "I started getting more matches from the Army Ground [in Patiala] and then I got a coach who also guided me. He taught me the basics. From there I shifted to the Dhruv Pandove Stadium where I still train."

He went on to represent Punjab Under-16s and Under-19s and made his Twenty20 debut for Punjab in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy last year. He got a chance to bat only once in two T20s but his outings at the Under-19 level had impressed the selectors enough to try him out in two tri-series before the World Cup. On his Youth ODI debut, he scored 28, followed it with a fifty and averaged 27.25 with the bat before the World Cup started. It wasn't enough to throw an established player off his perch in the XI that was taking shape.

He didn't get to bat in the warm-ups even as other batsmen registered fifties and hundreds. That was, however, followed by a poor stretch of runs from Ricky Bhui, India's first-choice No. 3 who had also played the last World Cup in 2014. The Indian team management gambled by dropping an experienced player for a youngster for the knockouts and it paid off.

"You can trust in each of the 15 players we have," Kishan said about Anmolpreet's inclusion. "We know they can perform when the team needs. We have seen Anmol's batting and he performs in matches even if the situation is bad. He also bowls. We always think about the team, and he has proved himself."

Anmolpreet didn't look perturbed at all that he had not been given a chance before the quarter-final. "When Ricky did not score, sir (Rahul Dravid) gave me a chance and I did well."

His offspin bowling option does provide India another spinner on the slow tracks in Bangladesh, even though their pacers and frontline spinners have not had to depend on part-timers so far. Whether you ask him about his batting approach today, or in the triple-hundred against J&K, or while batting in general, he says: Lamba le ke jaana hai. He will now hope he can do the same in the final, if the opportunity arises, and with his cricketing career.