It took a performance that has occurred just twice in Test cricket's 141-year history to get Manipur left-arm pacer Rex Singh noticed, when he took all ten wickets in an innings in an Under-19 Cooch Behar Trophy match against Arunachal Pradesh.
A month earlier, Puducherry's Sidak Singh, a left-arm spinning allrounder, had achieved the same feat at the Under-23 CK Nayudu Trophy, ironically against Manipur. Both cricketers have taken different paths towards their dream of playing top-flight cricket. ESPNcricinfo caught up with both the players to trace their stories.
Sidak Singh: Bishan Singh Bedi sir had come to Mumbai to oversee a spin camp organised by Mumbai Cricket Association two years ago. Spinners from all age groups were there. I was playing in Mumbai then, I've played all age-group cricket in Mumbai including for their Under-19 team. I was also in their Under-23 camp, but then I got the opportunity to play as a professional for Puducherry. I thought this was a good opportunity. I did get chances in Mumbai at various age-group levels, and I also played in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and Buchi Babu. But I thought I could get more opportunities here. I'm playing age-group cricket now, but they've told me that if I perform well I can play for the main team.
I was the youngest debutant for Mumbai since Sachin [Tendulkar] sir. I didn't think too much about moving from there, I followed my instinct. Bishan sir also told me I have good chance to play the whole season. He had told me that I'm talented and I should play further. He met me only during the camp, which was for 15 days. After that we have only talked on the phone. I did well in the camp, and he found out that there is an opportunity here and connected me with the people in Cricket Association of Puducherry.
Rex Singh: As a 10-11 year old, I used to go to taekwondo classes in an area called Sagolband in Imphal. Next to my class, there was a huge ground where various teams played tennis-ball tournaments. Many elders from my colony were part of one team. I wasn't too keen on taekwondo, so I used to skip those classes and go and watch the cricket. One day, out of pity, they took me in the team. Kids of my age weren't too interested in cricket, they played a lot of football; I think I was noticed because of that. Pheiroizan Roindro, who used to teach at a school near my house, is my coach now. He saw me playing and introduced me to leather-ball cricket. I first played with a leather ball at the Under-14 level in 2014-15. I used to just run in fast and bowl like I did with the tennis ball. Coaches could see I had a natural inswing, so they taught me how to hold the ball and what my wrist position should be. In my first match against Bihar Under-16s, I got a five-wicket haul.
I was at an Under-19 camp at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) where Shiv Sunder Das and Balwinder Sandhu inculcated work ethic in me. I had hardly any knowledge about diet or gym work. At NCA, it was like I was in a different world. I wasn't used to playing on a ground with grass, so I was always afraid to dive. But I learnt so many things about my game I didn't know existed, and it gave me confidence.
The ten-wicket match
Sidak Singh: . I never thought I'd get all ten. I had seven wickets on the first day at stumps. I thought one of the fast bowlers would get the remaining three wickets because the pitch was a bit green, but I ended up getting the wickets. Luck was on my side. The team was very happy with my performance too. The match referee told me after the match that it was a record, and that no one had taken all ten wickets in an innings in a CK Nayudu match before this. He gave me the match ball also. It's with me now, but when I go back home, I'll keep it somewhere safe.
Rex Singh: I came close to it earlier in the season, when I missed the mark by two wickets against Puducherry. It wasn't like a burning desire to get a ten-wicket haul, but when you get it, you know how much it gets you noticed. I was surprised to see videos circulating in social media. It was a proud moment when a lot of family and friends actually messaged me saying the saw the video of my ten-wicket haul. I was on a hat-trick twice, and eventually managed to get one. So to get both the hat-trick and ten wickets is special. Hopefully it will help me regain my place in the first-class team.
Ranji and Under-19
Sidak Singh: I was close to getting in the team for the Under-19 World Cup in 2016, but one of my deliveries had a suspect action. I was in the camp of 20 under Rahul Dravid, but Mayank Dagar played that year because my 'doosra' was reported. So to clear it, I had to go to SRMC in Chennai, but by the time my action was cleared and the report came, the team had already left for Bangladesh.
[India lost in the final against West Indies in the tournament] Yes, in fact many of the players also told me that they needed an allrounder. I was upset that I couldn't be there, because I thought I had a good chance and I was so close. I was a little down after that, the next season didn't go really well for me because of that. I couldn't play in the U-19 World Cup and all my team-mates had progressed. But it's okay, jo hota hai acche ke liya hota hai (Whatever happens, is for the good).
Rex Singh: My Ranji Trophy debut was an unforgettable moment, I was told the night before that I was playing. I hadn't seen or heard much about the tournament until four years ago. But I had seen while at the NCA how serious everyone was about the Ranji Trophy and what it meant to them. That's when it struck me, how big a deal it was to play in the tournament and how lucky I'm to be getting a chance.
Sidak Singh: My father has a clothes shop in Chandigarh. My mother is a homemaker. I live in Mumbai alone. I moved ten years ago. Salim Sheikh brought me to Mumbai and got me admitted in Rizvi Springfield School. I played in Rizvi for six years - I was with Armaan Jaffer, Sarfaraz Khan and Prithvi Shaw. I was the highest wicket-taker in the Giles Shield and Harris Shield. I was 11 years old when I moved to Mumbai.
Salim sir had played A division cricket in Mumbai and he's been the cricket manager for Railways. He was impressed with my bowling and he asked my parents if I can move to Mumbai because I'd have a better cricketing future there, and my parents agreed. My parents have supported me in cricket a lot. I've been playing cricket since I was 7-8 years old. Initially when I moved to Mumbai, the first two-three years were very difficult because I missed home a lot. But I settled in after that.
Rex Singh: My parents supported me, but it was difficult financially because my father was a bus driver in Imphal, and had to take care of three kids. My uncle also supported my interests in cricket because I was starting to do well in these age-group tournaments. I didn't want to give up studies, but last year I couldn't give my Class XII exam because I was playing in the Affiliate and Associates tournament. Hopefully I can complete it soon, for now they are not complaining.
James Anderson is my favourite cricketer. I've watched videos of his 7 for 43 against New Zealand so many times now. As a left-hander, I watch videos of Wasim Akram. I was too young when he retired, so I can't remember any matches of his, so I just watch his top spells on YouTube.
Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo