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Ramandeep Singh: the gentle 'trundler' who turned Punjab's hat-trick hero

Allrounder heaps praise on head coach Aavishkar Salvi for his development as Punjab crush Baroda in Mumbai

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Ramandeep Singh's five-for, including a hat-trick, set up a comfortable Punjab win  •  Ramandeep Singh

Ramandeep Singh's five-for, including a hat-trick, set up a comfortable Punjab win  •  Ramandeep Singh

Ramandeep Singh, the Punjab allrounder, had a moment to cherish on Tuesday when he picked up a hat-trick at the Vijay Hazare Trophy against Baroda. He finished with figures of 5 for 17 as Punjab shot out Baroda for 81 and then chased down the score with nine wickets in hand and 228 balls to spare in Mumbai.
The match wasn't televised, and those following it through scorecards would only know each of his three wickets in the hat-trick were "caught" by a fielder. Where was it caught? What balls did he bowl? What was his thought process? Here's Ramandeep in his own words.
"The first wicket, I got a little lucky," he recalled to ESPNcricinfo. "I wanted to bowl an inswinger, but ended up straying down leg, and [Vishnu] Solanki flicked it straight to fine leg.
"The second ball, I decided I'll bowl short. On red-soil decks in Mumbai, if you hit the deck hard, you get good purchase. So, I knew if I bang it in properly and beat them for pace, I could have a chance if they went for a hook. He [Ninad Rathva] went for a hook and top-edged a catch to fine leg."
From the corner of his eye, as Ramandeep watched Ambati Rayudu take guard for the hat-trick ball, he decided to bluff the batter. The square leg fielder went back, fine leg remained where he was, and the field was positioned for a short ball.
"I just had a hunch the short ball was probably at the back of his [Rayudu's] mind, so I set fields for it, but wanted to bowl full and get the ball to move away. I happened to land it in the right area - bowled full, it nipped away a bit - and he nicked behind to our wicketkeeper Anmol Malhotra. I'll remember the wicket because it happened to be a quality batter.
"It's all the more special because this is my first hat-trick at the senior level."
After the game, having done his job with the ball, Ramandeep went out range hitting at the Bandra Kurla Complex for a better part of the next hour before returning to his Mumbai hotel to take congratulatory calls.
Among the first things he found out when he returned was that Kieron Pollard, the man who had given him his Mumbai Indians cap in Pune earlier this year, had retired from IPL. Ramandeep was, however, delighted to know Pollard wasn't going anywhere and that he'd continue to be able to pick his brains when he joins the IPL camp in March.
Ramandeep is an allrounder, like Pollard. Until recently, he was a gentle 125kph "trundler" - in his own words. Last year, a 23-ball 54 against Odisha at the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy proved to be a turning point as he was soon invited to trial with Mumbai Indians. At the February auction, Ramandeep was picked up at his base price of INR 20 lakh.
Having made his way into the setup, he quickly realised the need to be multi-skilled and began working on his bowling. But it wasn't until August this year, when Aavishkar Salvi, the former India fast bowler, took over as Punjab coach, that Ramandeep began working on his bowling seriously.
"Among the first things he [Salvi] told me when he took over and watched me bowl in one or two training sessions is, 'you can't be a medium pacer. There's no way you're a part-timer. I will play you as a third pacer in the team. You're that good. You should be bowling 140kph, not military medium. But I can't make it happen unless you believe in yourself.'
"No amount of praise is enough for him. Whatever issues I've had with my bowling, whether its rhythm or consistency, it's a lot better now and it's because he's spent time and effort into making me the bowler I am. His simple message was: 'don't worry about looking for swing or nipping the ball around. You just focus on hitting the deck hard, you have the height, if you can do that, rest will take care of itself.' I've just followed that," Ramandeep said.
"We have seven or eight players who feature in the IPL, so there's definite quality. Now, there's belief too."
Ramandeep Singh on Punjab's chances
Three months on, the results are slowly bearing fruit. Ramandeep believes he's a lot more confident, less shy and on top of his game. In July, a month after his maiden IPL stint with Mumbai, Ramandeep captained Reliance, the owners of Mumbai Indians, on their tour of the UK.
It was a preparatory tour aimed at giving their local Indian players, along with some of their overseas players, like Tristan Stubbs and Dewald Brewis, exposure as they toured the country for multiple T20 games against several counties.
"Just the captaincy was such a big boost, I loved having that extra responsibility," he said. "I got a pair of 40s as a finisher, with the ball in one of the games, I conceded just four runs off the penultimate over with us defending 18. Playing on different wickets, working on skills, training to play with specific goals - it was a lot of fun."
Ramandeep's immediate goals are now to win a domestic title for Punjab, something that eluded them at the Syed Mushtaq Ali this year, where they lost in the semi-finals to Himachal. With two wins in as many games, Punjab are second on the points table in their group. He knows there's a long way to go but is confident they have the team to lift the title.
"We have seven or eight players who feature in the IPL, so there's definite quality. Now, there's belief too. Not that it wasn't there earlier, but the vibe within this group is different. Salvi sir deserves a lot of credit for the way he's turned around a group of motivated players into a winning unit. Hopefully, if we can go all the way, that'll be the best reward we can give ourselves."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo