For UP's Rinku Singh, hardships are opportunities

Rinku Singh celebrates his hundred Ekana cricket media

Rinku Singh is no stranger to adversity. Born in a lower middle-class family in Aligarh, a young Rinku saw his father deliver LPG cylinders to take care of the family. Around 2015, when they had run up a debt of INR 5 lakh, Rinku was playing for Uttar Pradesh in the Under-19s, and had started saving up from his daily allowance to help repay it. If that wasn't enough, he once almost took up a job as a domestic worker, where his primary tasks would have been sweeping and mopping.

Compared to all that, even if dealing with the former might not necessarily prepare one for tricky situations on the cricket field, walking in on Tuesday with his team at 54 for 4 would have appeared trivial, even in a Ranji Trophy quarter-final against a strong Saurashtra side that is unbeaten in the tournament so far.

It wasn't a new task for the 21-year-old Rinku, though.

In the league game against Jammu and Kashmir, UP were at 79 for 5 when Rinku walked in. His 66 off 88 balls from No. 7 helped lift the side to 188. Then, against Haryana , UP were in similar trouble at 53 for 4. Rinku's 43 from No. 6 ensured that when he was last man out, his side had the first-innings lead. They went on to win both games.

Coming into the quarter-final, Rinku had 803 runs from 11 innings at an average of 114.71 and a strike rate of 71.25. His tally was already the most for an UP batsman. On the eve of the game, Rinku had said that he was aiming for 1000 runs for the season and wanted to get to the mark against Saurashtra as there was no guarantee of another game.

Before he got a chance to bat, Saurashtra captain Jaydev Unadkat had used the new ball and early moisture to dismiss Rahul Rawat and Mohammad Saif for ducks. Madhav Kaushik and Akshdeep Nath had then taken the side past 50 before left-arm spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja removed both in one over.

Rinku is known for his fearless approach, and brought it to the fore when on just 3, stepping out to a flighted delivery from Jadeja and hitting the ball down the ground for a one-bounce four.

There was a distinct feeling of déjà vu for those present at the ground during UP's practice session on Monday. The only difference was that Rinku's team-mate Saurabh Kumar was at the receiving end on that occasion.

Two balls later, when Jadeja cut down the flight, Rinku reverse-swept him behind point for four. Left-arm seamer Chetan Sakariya was pulled off the front foot while Unadkat was punched through the covers as Rinku reached 36 at lunch.

After the break, with the sun out and the moisture having dried out, Rinku started toying with the bowling. Unadkat was taken for four consecutive boundaries. Twice he was flicked off the pads and once steered behind point. However, it was the fourth that really helped Rinku stamp his authority. Unadkat went for the bouncer, but the youngster was up to the challenge. He rocked back and pulled behind square with disdain as if telling the opposition that he would dictate the terms thereon.

Along with Priyam Garg, Rinku added 145 for the fifth wicket, but such was his dominance that he scored 94 of the runs. While Garg fell for 49, Rinku brought up his hundred - his fourth of the season - off just 136 balls, celebrating the milestone with a David Warner-esque leap.

When Jadeja returned to the attack after tea, Rinku once again used his feet to dictate the length, driving inside out through the covers. The next ball was short of a length, and was cut off the back foot for another four.

In all, Rinku scored 56 runs from the 47 deliveries he faced from Jadeja, and 35 off 27 from Unadkat. Of his 19 hits to the boundary, 15 came off the two premier opposition bowlers. Saurashtra's hopes of bowling the home side out cheaply were well and truly dashed as a result.

Rinku, though, played his efforts down afterwards, saying that he hadn't done anything special. "I just batted the way I have been batting," he said after first day's play, with UP at 340/7. "To be honest, those were actually loose balls (off which he scored four fours in a row). I just put them away."

He also had an interesting take on his aggressive approach against Jadeja. "I just love batting against spinners. When a spinner comes on, I feel like scoring all my runs in that one over itself."

The only chance Saurashtra had during Rinku's 150 off 181 - that too a tough one - was when the batsman was on 122. A Jadeja delivery had kicked off the surface but Rinku opened the face of the bat at the last moment and the ball went between the wicketkeeper and first slip.

While Rinku fell 47 short of 1000 runs for the season, his counter-attacking innings ensured UP finished day one with their noses ahead.