IPL fairy tale: Tennis ball cricket to RCB, son of car driver picked for Rs 60 lakh after bidding war

AT THE end of the IPL mini auction in Kochi Friday, there was a sudden buzz with Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) getting into a paddle war for an unknown pacesetter from Jammu. RCB eventually pushed the tag to Rs 60 lakh to sign 24-year-old Avinash Singh – a tennis ball cricketer who only started bowling with the leather ball about 10 months ago.

About 2,000 miles away, Avinash watched the auction at his home with his family. He had predicted that he would be picked by an IPL team. But as his name was not on the list of players, the family got worried and his irritated father Ashok Singh, a racing driver, quipped, “Chal, cricket ka bukhaar utaar aur Canada nikal (Get over this cricket fever and start packing for Canada ).”

Minutes later, the auctioneer Hugh Edmedeas said, “We have Avinash Singh for just Rs 20 lakh.” RCB raised the paddle and KKR joined the bidding before the Bengaluru franchise came up with the winning bid. “I was very confident that I would be selected, although I did not know which team would do it,” Avinash told The Indian Express on the phone.

“There was an RCB trial in Mumbai in September… They loved my bowling action. I did well in camp. The fastest I bowled was 154.3 km/h. Then I also got calls from KKR, LSG and DC; those tests also went well. I had every confidence in it,” he says.

This Cinderella story started a year ago.

Last December, after another failed physical test for the military, a distraught Avinash planned to move to Canada. His father took a loan from relatives and he would start the visa process after getting his passport.

Then, in the first week of February, Avinash went with his friends “for fun” to a cricket academy run by Mayank Goswami, a former J&K player. Although known for his speed in the tennis ball circuit, this was Avinash’s first time bowling with a leather ball. “Meri toh aankhe fati rah gayi (My eyes are about to burst). Then I asked some other coaches about his bowling. They were all stunned,” Goswami told The Indian Express from Jammu. “Having been involved in the game for nearly two decades, you just know if you’re seeing someone special. There was an X factor in Avinash.”

Avinash Singh with his coach Mayank Goswami. (Special arrangement)

Goswami urged Avinash to join his academy but the youngster failed to show up. “I wanted to join the army, cricket was just a hobby. I never played thinking that one day I would have to play professionally,” says Avinash.

There were also other pressing reasons.

“I was planning to go to Canada, and my father was also against this idea (of cricket). I had no money to buy spiked shoes. Our financial condition is not good. Two of my brothers study, I did nothing. My father was the sole breadwinner. He asked where you would buy a kit. He was right, cricket kits are expensive. So I started apologizing to Mayank sir,” says Avinash.

After about a week, Goswami sent one of the academy’s coaches to Avinash’s house. “He told me about their financial situation. I asked him (Avinash’s father) to give him a year, and if nothing happens, send him to Canada,” says Goswami with a laugh.

After observing the bowler for a few weeks, the coach gave him a train ticket to Pune to meet Ashok Gaikwad, a renowned coach and biomechanics expert. “My only concern was that he has never bowled with the leather ball and if his body could handle the speed. He stayed there for two weeks. Mr. Ashok gave him a dos and don’ts list and asked him to follow it,” Goswami says.

The coach shares another interesting story about Avinash. “When I gave him the ticket, he said ‘Sir, I never left Jammu and you are sending me to Pune’. I laughed and said to him, ‘Just think you’re going to Canada’.”

Once he came back from Pune, Avinash made “rapid improvement” in his height and pace. “From March to June we worked on his pace and by the time RCB came for the trials he was done and swept them off their feet. Lucknow, Delhi and even Kolkata, they wanted to keep him as a net bowler and put him up for auction next year. But RCB was adamant, so they went hard for him,” says Goswami.

“He already works with RCB trainers and physios. He has been given the schedule for the next three to four months and they are watching him,” he says.

A day after the auction, Goswami is reminded of the “Cinderella Story”. “He came to my academy for fun. I was there, I watched him bowl, he was restrained, Dad was against him playing cricket, we chased him, and in nine months he’s a celebrity here.

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