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Feature

Fateh Singh's journey - from seam to spin, now treading the Moeen Ali route

The Under-19 World Cup hasn't gone to plan for the England spin-bowling allrounder, but it hasn't stopped him from dreaming big

Sreshth Shah
Sreshth Shah
04-Feb-2022
"To be the leading Test wicket-taker would be nice, but for me, a nice one would be to play in the IPL and be the leading wicket-taker in a season"  •  ICC via Getty

"To be the leading Test wicket-taker would be nice, but for me, a nice one would be to play in the IPL and be the leading wicket-taker in a season"  •  ICC via Getty

During the 2017 Champions Trophy, the ICC had a ticket giveaway - for one lucky person and a family member - to watch the India vs Pakistan game. There were entries from all over the world. The winner was 13-year-old Fateh Singh, whose name had been entered by his father Gurj Landa. Cheering for India was an "unreal experience" for Fateh, and the day was capped with India defeating Pakistan rather convincingly in that group-stage fixture.
Fast forward five years, and Fateh is in another ICC tournament. But everything about this one is different. The India blue from 2017 has been replaced by the England blue. He is in the middle, not in the stands. Most importantly, the allrounder has played a key role in his team's first appearance in the final of an Under-19 World Cup in 24 years.
It hasn't been a smooth ride, though. The first challenge was after joining the Nottinghamshire academy as a left-arm seamer who had the potential to become an allrounder. Given his height, or lack thereof, Fateh was told quite early by coach Andrew Jackman that he might be better off trying out left-arm spin instead. The rise has been steep since.
"It was tricky, but I adapted to the change," Fateh tells ESPNcricinfo. "After that I watched videos of Yuvraj Singh, Daniel Vettori and Monty Panesar. When I bowl, my plan is to stay with my stock ball as long as possible. And if I get hit, then I adapt and change my course."
That obstacle, of transitioning from seamer to spinner, however, was just one of many for Fateh.
In 2015, Fateh was diagnosed with alopecia universalis, an autoimmune disease that causes loss of body hair. One's hair is part of one's identity, more so for a Sikh, the community Fateh belongs to.
Two years later, his mother had to move away from the family and shift to an assisted-living facility because of her own health complications, which still continue.
"Moeen is fearless, a natural ball-striker. He's been through quite a bit in his career, so for him to get to the top and captaining England [in four T20Is] too is quite inspirational"
"It doesn't affect your health physically, it just affects your hair," Fateh said of his own condition. "Truth be told, I didn't know how to deal with it. It was a new thing. As I got older, it got harder, but I started to accept me for who I am. So, regardless of what anyone says, this is me and I am okay with that."
It is something that has attracted attention, though. Fateh has learnt to live with it. "People put cricket and alopecia together and say 'it is crazy how well you've done despite it'. But for me, it's normal. It doesn't bother me," he says. "It is one of the first things people ask me about and I'm more than happy to answer questions regarding it because I know people are curious about it and I could inspire them.
"But I just don't like it that people turn sympathetic towards me. I just dislike when someone feels like they have to feel sorry for me."
Eventually, though, it's what you do in the field that matters most. On that front, Fateh's record is outstanding, from being a nine-year-old in the county's Under-11 side, or his first Nottinghamshire century at 11, or being the club's Under-13 captain.
He was also a net bowler for England when India toured in 2018 for the Test series, and by the time the 2021 season was over, his 28 wickets for the Under-18s at an average of 11.57 resulted in call-ups to the county second XI and into the England Under-19 squad.
"I was a net bowler during India vs England in 2018. And Moeen Ali was so approachable," Fateh says. "And I was a stranger to Moeen, but he took out time outside training to give me advice, which I really appreciated.
"I am a bit like Moeen, to be fair, and by far he is my favourite cricketer. He is fearless, a natural ball-striker. He's been through quite a bit in his career, so for him to get to the top and captaining England [in four T20Is] too is quite inspirational."
The World Cup, however, has been below-par for him so far. He has been a part of only two starting XIs even as his team has won five games in a row, and he hasn't had a chance to show off his batting chops. At 3.15, he has been England's most economical bowler, but the side has preferred Rehan Ahmed, the attacking legspinner, ahead of him. "In my last game, I bowled seven overs for only 12 runs. But did not get a wicket," Fateh says. "I would have wanted to play more, but it's a team game."
That, though, hasn't stopped him from dreaming.
"After the World Cup, I want to make the first team, which is a good challenge since Notts have a very strong side," he says. "I have a two-year contract, so I hope to renew it. I don't think too far ahead, want to stay in the present. But my white-ball skills are my strong suit right now.
"To be the leading Test wicket-taker would be nice, but for me, a nice one would be to play in the IPL and be the leading wicket-taker in a season and take more [wickets] than anyone has done before.
"I used to always watch Mumbai Indians. That's when Sachin Tendulkar used to play. My family is from Punjab, so obviously I love Punjab Kings. But I'd watch any team play, like when Virat [Kohli] and AB [de Villiers] are batting together for RCB. I'd love to give the IPL a crack."
It's ambitious, but it's best to not bet against Fateh Singh. Fateh means "conquest". The young man has done some of that already. And he is keen to live up to his name.

Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @sreshthx