He bowls left-arm, wears a patka!

Harmeet Singh is ecstatic after India's under-19 World Cup triumph.-AP

Harmeet Singh, who represented India in the under-19 World Cup, has caused a flutter among cricket aficionados following Ian Chappell’s observation that he is equipped with the “flight and guile that would right now place him as the best spin bowler in any Test side bar England.’’ G. Viswanath profiles Harmeet.

Harmeet Singh has stirred up a lot of debate. Neither have top class batsmen faced him sufficiently enough to appraise his skill to tease and trick, nor has the patka-clad left-arm spinner clean bowled a reputed batsman just like leg-spinner Piyush Chawla bagged Sachin Tendulkar in the Challenger Series some years ago. Furthermore, he does not figure among the prominent wicket-takers in the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2012 held in Australia. Yet the 5’11” spinner from Mumbai has caused a flutter among cricket aficionados following Ian Chappell’s observation that the Sardar is equipped with the “flight and guile that would right now place him as the best spin bowler in any Test side bar England.’’

There is a tendency among the followers of the game to cast a curious eye on anybody sporting a ‘patka’ and bowling left-arm spin because of Bishan Singh Bedi. India has been lucky to be blessed with extraordinary left-arm spinners like Vinoo Mankad — referred to as ‘Master’ by his contemporaries — and Bedi.

Clearly, Indians have taken seriously to Chappell’s comments. But a number of past Test and first-class cricketers, including Padmakar Shivalkar and Praveen Amre, feel that Harmeet has to go through the rigours of domestic tournaments. So far he has played three Ranji Trophy matches — against Himachal Pradesh (4 for 89 and 3 for 38 at the BKC, Mumbai) against Railways (2 for 54 and 3 for 38 at the Karnail Singh Stadium, New Delhi) and against Tamil Nadu (5 for 86 at the India Cements Guru Nanak College Ground, Chennai). He has played 16 under-19 one-day matches and taken 18 wickets, including six in the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Australia.

So what’s been the story of Harmeet Singh, his early days and his splendid performances for his school and thereafter for Mumbai in the Cooch Behar Trophy last year? It is said that once, after he had played rubber-ball cricket in his building compound, his father Jasbir Singh advised him not to waste time and told Harmeet that if he was keen to play then he should play proper cricket. And so Harmeet joined a cricket camp at Prabhodan Club, Goregaon.

“Luckily for Harmeet, the former Mumbai left-arm spinner, Sanjay Patil, spotted him and informed me. I saw the first ball sent down by Harmeet and was impressed. I advised his parents to change his school (from St. Joseph’s High School, Orlem-Malad, to Swami Vivekanand) for his development as a cricketer. They were reluctant because of the distance the 12-year-old had to travel alone. But eventually they agreed after they had a meeting with me and Suru Nayak. He was one of the seven boys I sent to an academy run by Amre and Paddy Sir at Shivaji Park Gymkhana,’’ said Dinesh Lad, Harmeet’s first coach and also Rohit Sharma’s.

Harmeet, chaperoned by his mother Paramjeet Kaur, travelled from Gorai to Shivaji Park after school hours. He practised from 2 to 5 in the afternoon for five to six years. “Sir (Shivalkar), did not change my action. He said there was no need to and he focused on technical aspects like imparting spin, flight and loop. He said the more time the ball was in the air, there would be more confusion in the batsman’s mind. He also said that more revolutions would assist the ball to dip and would be very useful against a batsman who is inclined to drive off his front foot.’’

His bowling and batting helped his school create history when it won the Giles Shield for the first time in 104 years in 2006 and thereafter the Harris Shield for the first time in 112 years in 2007. “Our school beat Hansraj Morarjee in both finals. Harmeet took five wickets in each innings in the Harris final and also scored runs,” said Lad.

Mumbai coach Amre and selector Shivalkar chose him for the aforementioned Ranji Trophy matches against Himachal Pradesh, Railways and Tamil Nadu for two seasons (2009-10 and 2010-11). Last year Mumbai did not give him a transfer to Haryana, but instead fielded him as captain in the under-19 tournaments. He played two league games of the Cooch Behar Trophy, fractured the ring finger of the bowling hand and later returned to play three knock-out games to help Mumbai win the title.

“I have been very disciplined. I want to focus on my game. I have changed as a bowler; I have worked a lot on accuracy which was missing for some time. I see myself at a different level now. I don’t regret anything now. When my dream is to play for India why should I be under pressure? That’s why myself and Sandeep Sharma were able to snatch victory against Pakistan (in the u-19 World Cup quarter-finals). The crowd was behind us and we took India through. We enjoyed the occasion,’’ said Harmeet.

The debate goes on, though, following Chappell's assessment of the young spinner and the focus will be riveted on Harmeet Singh, maybe from the Irani Cup in September.