Nathu Singh yearning for 'Achhe din'

With a solid start to the season for Rajasthan a year and a half back, the medium-pacer was considered the next big thing of Indian cricket. However, an untimely injury put the brakes on his potential.

Last year, Nathu Singh was relegated to the Mumbai Indians' bench owing to the injury. This year, he will be hoping to shine for his new side Gujarat Lions.   -  Shayan Acharya

The practice arena at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai was buzzing with activity. On an unusually busy Friday morning, all the five nets were teeming with players in various jerseys sweating it out.

While most of the batsmen were waiting for their turn to hit the nets, a youngster was standing quietly with a red cherry, in one corner of the venue. As the shutterbugs ran around to capture the best frames of the recent top performers in the Ranji Trophy and the Indian Premier League (IPL) top buys, there was hardly anyone focusing on this side of the field.

A few minutes later, the youngster took small steps towards the bowling crease, and stretched his arms a bit. That was his way of warming up. The very next moment, the 21-year-old pacer kissed his amulet, flashing over his red jersey, and was ready to bowl to his team-mate, Ashok Menaria.

The ball whizzed past the former India U-19 captain and kissed the stumps. Menaria looked towards his young colleague and said in a Marwari-accented Hindi, “Tu toh chamak raha hai, Nathu…” (You are shining, Nathu).

Nathu Singh, smiled back shyly, and slowly walked back towards the bowling zone. He wasn’t willing to let the appreciation sink in, and rather asked his fellow-bowler, Aniket Choudhary to give him another chance to bowl to Menaria.

“It is very important that I get my rhythm back. That’s one area I suffered most last season. Now that I’m slowly regaining that lost touch, I better keep it close to the chest,” Nathu told Sportstar later.

He had a point there.

With a solid start to the season for Rajasthan a year and a half back, the medium-pacer was considered the next big thing of Indian cricket. And why not; at an age when most bowlers struggle to keep line and length intact, here was one who could discomfort the seniors such as Gautam Gambhir by clocking deliveries at 140kmph. Adding gloss to the performance, Nathu even got rewarded as Mumbai Indians roped him in for the IPL last season, for a whopping Rs. 3.2 crore.

The money changed his life. But his cricket suffered big time as an injury saw the youngster from Jaipur warming the bench throughout the season. “It was painful to sit out. Before the injury, I could let the ball do the talking, but slowly, things became difficult. The swing was gone, the rhythm was missing. It looked as if I was finished. Those days were troublesome,” he said in a soft voice.

As he spoke, senior Rajasthan pacer Pankaj Singh walked past, giving him a pat on the back. “If you ask me whether I have money now, the answer would be yes. With a fair amount of money in hand, I can now have the luxuries. But if you ask if life has changed as a cricketer, I would disagree,” Nathu went on.

Hailing from a lower middle-class family, Nathu has seen days when they could afford to have only one meal. With his father earning a meagre Rs. 8,000 a month, life was tough for the family of four. But with big money coming his way, thanks to the cash-rich IPL, Nathu is gifting a house to his parents. The house, which is under construction at Jaipur’s Jhotwara, would cost him Rs. 1.5 crore. Another Rs. 50 lakh had to be paid to acquire the land.

But that’s not a problem for Nathu anymore.

“Throughout their life, my parents have lived in a shanty. If I can’t gift them a proper house, then why am I earning?” he questioned. Taking a pause, he smilingly added, “There’s one more investment. I have bought myself a car.”

Even a few months ago, Nathu would travel 40 km to reach the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur. In those days, his only option was to ride his second-hand bike. “That was risky. Being a cricketer, you can’t afford to be injured in road accidents. So, when money flushed in, I had to buy a car,” he stressed.

As the conversation about his new house, car and why it is risky to ride two-wheelers went on, a good 15 minutes were gone. Nathu smiled at his team-mate Aniket, who earned Rs. 2 crore in the IPL auction this year.

With a dip in form and injury bothering him, ‘crorepati’ Nathu has now been relegated to the ‘lakhpati’ club, as this time he has been roped in by the Gujarat Lions for the base price of Rs. 30 lakh. “Such things happen in cricket. Last season was quite disappointing for me. Why would anyone waste so much money on me, when I haven’t delivered the goods?” he questioned.

Just when you start thinking that the youngster is feeling low, he smiles back, saying: “Par is bar, ache din lautenge” (the good days would return soon).

Along with Aniket and Basil Thampi, Nathu has been picked by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to tour with the Indian team and bowl to them at the nets. And that has helped Nathu. “My attitude has changed. After interacting with Virat (Kohli) bhai and others, I have realised that it’s important for a bowler to have the right attitude,” he said.

Virat often pulls his leg. And that’s something he enjoys. “Such things are always good. It’s not every time that you get appreciated by the Indian captain. Spending time with the Indian team has helped me,” he said.

The rhythm is slowly returning. So is the pace. And once the Vijay Hazare Trophy gets over, Nathu would be visiting the MRF Pace Foundation for a quick rehabilitation. “Before the IPL begins, I need to get back to shape. I can’t afford to spend another season, warming the bench,” he said, adding, “One good match would again bring the focus back on me.”

That’s something Nathu is looking forward to. In a career that’s been more of a roller-coaster, Nathu is now in search of some steady times.

Some ‘Achhe din’, perhaps!