Rinku Singh: Once a joke among KKR fans, now toast of the IPL

The ultimate underdog story of Indian Premier League, it has been one hell of a ride for Rinku Singh, whose stint with the Kolkata Knight Riders was indifferent at best

Rinku Singh
Rinku Singh

Gautam Bhattacharyya

From being the joke of the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) camp for the last four seasons to the toast of the Indian Premier League (IPL), it has been one hell of a ride for Rinku Singh. What has certainly grabbed the imagination of the country—leaving aside the cricketing bravado—is that it has been the ultimate underdog story in the journey of the cash-rich league.

The IPL, during its 16-year journey, has given birth to several rags-to-riches stories. The one of Mohammed Siraj, son of an autorickshaw driver in Hyderabad, and that of Yashasvi Jaiswal, who used to sleep in the club premises of the Mumbai Maidan are the stuff of legend now. The difference between them and Rinku is that while they broke through on raw talent that pitchforked them into a better life, the latter was long considered a "waste of time" when the KKR continued to keep him in the dugout despite all the criticism and the memes.

The ever-smiling 26-year-old was often the butt of jokes by teammates for his poor English. He hardly managed anything of note in the odd match where he finally came in to bat lower down the order. The perception about him changed somewhat only last season, an indifferent one for KKR in general. As they struggled with their batting line-up, Rinku managed to create some confidence in the team management about his batting abilities, ending with 174 runs from seven innings. The reward was retention this season, at a modest (by IPL standards) Rs 5.5 million; but no one was expecting him to move mountains.

All that changed after Sunday evening at the Narendra Modi Stadium. Rinku’s heroics had his team owner, Shah Rukh Khan, superimposing the batter’s face on a poster of himself in Pathaan garb and posting "Jhoome jo Rinkuuuuu !!!" in a nod to the superhit song from his blockbuster.

The likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag were also effusive on their social media handles. ‘’A match that went down to the wire & continued shifting momentum. One felt Rashid Khan's hat-trick was a game-changer but Rinku’s power-hitting was something special… This amazing game continues to teach us that it’s not over till it’s over,’’ the Master Blaster wrote on his Twitter handle.

The highest number of runs achieved in the last over in IPL before Rinku's 29 yesterday was 23—and that was pulled off by the master finisher Mahendra Singh Dhoni in a Pune Supergiant shirt some five years back. The most recent memory of a similar feat was from Rahul Tewatia for the Rajasthan Royals, playing against the Punjab Kings in 2021 at the much smaller venue of Sharjah, and not in the last over, where a Herculean target—and any possible dot ball—can only build tremendous pressure.

Under such circumstances, Rinku took his senior non-striker Umesh Yadav’s sage advice: ‘’Hit it—don’t think.’’ Fortunately for him, all five deliveries from inexperienced left-arm seamer Yash Dayal were on the spot, but the pocket-sized Rinku’s power in clearing the big boundaries was simply jaw-dropping. The strength that his squat frame derives from hours of weight training at the gym and his boxing sessions certainly came in handy this day.

In the glamour and glitter of the IPL world, this farmer’s son from Aligarh—who was once nearly pushed to take up a sweeper’s job to help their family earn two square meals a day—may still continue to be a misfit. However, in the cricketing echelons, his match-winning act will be right up there with possibly Carlos Brathwaite’s four sixes on the trot against Ben Stokes in the T20 World Cup final in 2016 at the Eden Gardens!

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