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Feature

Rinku Singh isn't just an IPL star, and he is more than those five sixes

But "life has changed quite a lot after those five sixes", he admits after a Player-of-the-Match award for his first international innings

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
22-Aug-2023
Rinku Singh blasted 38 off 21, Ireland vs India, 2nd T20I, Malahide, Dublin, August 20, 2023

It's the belief in his power to clear the ground that drives Rinku Singh  •  Sportsfile via Getty Images

Alur, July 6, 2023. It's a day after India's squad for the T20Is in the Caribbean was named. Rinku Singh, who was seemingly in with a fair chance of making the cut, has missed out. But as he walks off the field after play in a Duleep Trophy game, there's a distinct sense of calm around him. He indulges in some banter and mimicry that earns peals of laughter from his team-mates. It's as if he's wired to not think or worry about the things he can't control.
A handful of journalists present at the venue put in a request through a member of Central Zone's support staff for a chat with Rinku. He declines politely. You couldn't possibly have branded him arrogant or rude; he is just a shy person. Perhaps Rinku knew questions over his non-selection would come up.
"He's disappointed, but he says he's seen far more challenges," a support staff member told us. "Not getting picked for West Indies isn't a cause for dejection. He wants to enjoy his game and do well here in Bangalore. He's happy to speak later."
Later didn't come in the two weeks he spent in Bengaluru for the Duleep Trophy. What did, however, was an India call-up, first for the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, and then the T20Is in Ireland.
As mentioned, Rinku is a man of few words even when he does speak. Like you saw at the post-match presentation ceremony in the second T20I against Ireland, when he was awarded the Player-of-the-Match award for a superb 38 off 21 balls.
It was an innings of two parts. Initially, he took his time and set himself up, in the face of a mini-collapse, knowing well that India didn't have much batting after No. 8. Then when he got to a position where he knew he had to go, there was clarity in his striking plans and the areas he wanted to pick.
For 15 deliveries, Rinku had gone at a run-a-ball. Barring the one boundary off a ferocious sweep to legspinner Ben White, he seemed content nudging and milking singles. But in the 19th over, he got stuck into Barry McCarthy, first scything a wide yorker with precision behind point for four and then reading a slower offcutter early and depositing it beyond long-on for six.
Rinku has a strong base; there aren't too many premeditated movements to try and throw bowlers off. It's the belief in his power to clear the ground that drives him. The effect of those hits was McCarthy suddenly feeling the pressure - he delivered two successive wides in trying to second guess the batter.
"Life has changed quite a lot after those five sixes. People only remember me because of that. It feels good"
Rinku Singh
After that, perhaps a little frazzled, McCarthy ended up erring in length as he attempted another wide yorker. Having carved one behind point, Rinku knew with the third fielder quite square, he had to pick his spot. He did, showing remarkable timing and placement in the process as he went inside-out over extra cover to clear the longest boundary. The over went for 22 and India had the momentum on their side.
Rinku's innings helped Shivam Dube, too. From 9 off 13, he began the final over with two sixes. When the third ball went for a single, the Indians in the crowd went quite ballistic. Their man, Rinku, was on strike, and he didn't disappoint as he sent one sailing over deep-backward square. The wrist, the pick-up, the muscle - all excellent.
The fun ended next ball when he top-edged a pull, but he'd transformed a middling 160 score into a potentially match-winning 185.
Rinku's manner of flicking a switch from accumulator to beast was a proper throwback to that knock in Ahmedabad, when his career, and perhaps more, turned around. The quiet, shy Rinku, an afterthought in an XI boasting T20 legends such as Andre Russell and Sunil Narine, was suddenly at the front and centre of Kolkata Knight Riders' plans.
But, contrary to perception, Rinku isn't an IPL wonder. As tempting as it may be to bracket his India call-up to his IPL 2023 exploits, it does little justice to the work he has put in at the domestic level for Uttar Pradesh.
In the 2018-19 Ranji Trophy season, for example, Rinku was the second-highest run-scorer in the Elite division. He scored 953 runs in 13 innings at an astounding average of 105.88. This included four centuries and three half-centuries. At the List A Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2021-22, Rinku single-handedly steered Uttar Pradesh into the knockouts, notching up 379 runs in six innings, including four half-centuries and a century, at a strike rate of 94.75.
These underline his all-format stature and how it isn't just that one innings that propelled him to the national team. What it did give him, though, was visibility, which his toil and all the runs at the domestic level didn't. It makes a massive difference, and Rinku knows all about it.
"Life has changed quite a lot after those five sixes," Rinku told the BCCI website when asked by Ravi Bishnoi about fans rooting for him in Dublin. "People only remember me because of that. It feels good."
Rinku has seen his fair share of struggles, but his modest upbringing has given him enough perspective about life - he knows that fame can be fickle. And when he takes the field on Wednesday, it's likely he will be over Sunday's performance.
There's a T20 World Cup coming up next year, and Rinku may have personal aspirations of making the squad. But it's unlikely to make him lose sleep; just like being a run-a-ball 15 amid a slowdown in Dublin on Sunday didn't.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo