The coming of age: Nairobi, Lord's and Sydney
India were reeling from the sting of the match-fixing scandal when the 2000 ICC Knockout got underway in Nairobi. With two of their experienced middle-order batsmen serving bans, they were forced to turn to youth. Into the side came Singh, only 18, and a star of India's Under-19 World Cup triumph earlier that year. Batting for the first time in international cricket, he immediately showed he belonged, scoring 84 off 80 balls against an Australia attack that included Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie.
Two years later, India, chasing 326 in a tri-series final against England, were 132 for 4 when Singh walked in. That soon became 146 for 5. You know what happened next: the partnership with Mohammad Kaif, the tense finish, and the sight of an ecstatically shirtless Sourav Ganguly on the Lord's balcony. Some of Singh's shots that day, as you can see here, were truly jaw-dropping.
Come 2004, in a tri-series game in Sydney, he stitched together 213 with VVS Laxman, 139 of which came from his own blade. The shots flowed all around the ground, and one of the high points of this video is a pull off Jason Gillespie: the sound of the ball leaving his bat leaves the commentators purring.
The years of plenty
Even as he piled up an impressive highlights reel, Singh could be maddeningly inconsistent in his early years. From the start of 2005 to the end of 2007, however, he was easily one of the world's top ODI batsmen, scoring 2975 runs at an average of 46.48, with six hundreds.
He was indispensable in this period, a clinical middle-order finisher. Pakistan bore the brunt of his power and timing, across formats. He scored his first two Test hundreds against them, in 2004 and 2006, and was a constant scourge, along with MS Dhoni, during the ODI series in Pakistan in 2006; the best of his innings in that series was probably his unbeaten 107 - made while battling a hamstring injury - in a brilliant chase of 287.
A year later, Singh showed just how destructive a six-hitter he could be. First, he hit seven sixes in a 46-ball 83 against Bermuda in the 2007 World Cup, in India's mammoth total of 413. It was barely a consolation in a tournament that India crashed out of in the group stage, but it was a warning for what was to follow six months later. Look away, Stuart Broad.
Those six sixes powered Singh to a fifty off just 12 balls - still the fastest fifty in all T20 cricket. In India's next match of that inaugural World T20, the semi-final against Australia, he continued his rampant run by smacking 70 off 30 balls, including the longest six of the tournament,
The destructiveness of his T20 hitting could carry over into ODIs too; in Rajkot in 2008, he smeared 138 off just 78 balls against England, while wearing a brace to protect his injured back. He scored another hundred in the next game, in Indore, and took that form into the 2008-09 tour of New Zealand, where he hammered 87 off just 60 balls in Christchurch.
The electric fielder, the "pie chucker"
India are now a top-class fielding side, but it wasn't always so. Singh played his part in the transformation, and in the early part of his career he was a livewire at backward point, capable of turning short, wide hit-me balls into wicket takers with his feats of athleticism. Two of his most memorable catches helped turn around the Champions Trophy semi-final of 2002: a leaping, two-handed grab at full stretch to send back Graeme Smith, and a sensational swoop at short fine leg off a top-edged sweep from Jonty Rhodes. Oh, and he had a fantastic arm too.
Singh's left-arm spin appeared entirely innocuous, but he varied his pace and release angles cleverly and made some good batsmen look foolish. Kevin Pietersen famously called him a pie chucker, but Singh had the last laugh, dismissing Pietersen five times in international cricket. You can see from this gleeful celebration just how feisty their rivalry was.
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