I learnt a lot by sharing the dressing room with players like Mitchell Starc: Rituraj

In four games in the Ranji Trophy, Rituraj Singh picked 26 wickets at an average of 15.03 © Getty Images


By Nishad Pai Vaidya


The beauty of Rajasthan’s 2011-12 journey to the pinnacle of the Ranji Trophy lies in the emergence of young talent who have taken the domestic circuit by storm. One such player is precocious fast bowler Rituraj Singh. The 21-year old Jaipur boy has had a brilliant initiation into first-class cricket. In four games in the Ranji Trophy, he has picked 26 wickets at an average of 15.03. His match-winning performance in the semi-final at Haryana brought him the limelight as he bowled brilliantly.


In an exclusive interview with CricketCountry, Rituraj talks about his journey, experiences and goals for the future.



Cricketcountry (CC): How did cricket begin for you? What was the kind of support you received from your parents?


Rituraj Singh: As a kid I used to play in the garden, but my father never liked it. He told me that if I wanted to play cricket, I should join some club or an academy. At the age of 14, he admitted me to the SJ Cricket Academy in Jaipur. My parents have always supported me and never forced me to study. I was just an average student. I always wanted to play cricket and they supported me a lot in those initial stages. My parents and my coach, Mr Anil Sinha, are behind my success.



CC: Can you tell us about your age-group cricket and your struggle to make it to the Rajasthan team?


RS: In 2005, I played for Rajasthan under-15 and was the highest wicket-taker in the domestic circuit (u-15). After that, I was dropped for the under-17s, and from that point I started working harder. I felt I had the potential and my coach, Mr Anil Sinha, was always supportive and told me that I can play at the highest level. That really encouraged me and after being dropped for two consecutive years, I finally played the under-17s in 2007-08. Then again I was dropped for two years. The first year I had a back injury and the second year I wasn’t selected for the under-19s. My cricket career really started in 2009-10 when I was selected for the MRF Pace Foundation. Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) wanted to send two pacers from an open trial, in which I got selected.  



CC: As a young boy, which cricketer did you idolise and why?


RS: When I was growing up, I loved watching Shaun Pollock play. He used to bowl to his strengths and really made a difference to the South African attack. He is my idol because he could bat as well and has scored runs for his country. I would love to play a similar role for my state and my country as well.



CC: You have spent two years at the MRF pace foundation. How did that stint help your build-up?


RS: The MRF Pace Foundation played a major role in moulding me into a better cricketer. I am very thankful to Mr M. Senthilnathan, the MRF head coach and Mr Dennis Lillee as they helped me develop as a sportsman. In the 2010-11 season, I was given the opportunity to play in the BCCI Corporate Trophy for MRF, which was my first major outing. S Sriram was the captain of the team and Venugopal Rao was also a part of the squad. Their influence during that tournament was fantastic as they guided me through my initial exposure to a higher level.



CC: You were on an exchange program to Australia to play in the Emerging Players tournament in 2011 for Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). How was that experience and what part did it play in your development? 


RS: Playing in the AIS team was absolutely amazing as I learned a lot about the Australian culture of never giving up. I also learnt a lot by sharing the dressing room with some good first-class players, Mitchell Starc, and Jon Holland to name a few. Talking to them and sharing experiences was very educational. It was a great experience to feature in a tournament which contained the Emerging Players from South Africa, New Zealand and India. 


CC: Your performances in the under-22 competition fast-tracked your Ranji debut against Saurashtra. Did you feel overawed by the moment? Were there any nerves when you bowled your first delivery?


RS: For any youngster it is a huge step when he starts playing the Ranji Trophy. We grow up with the aim to play in the prestigious tournament. There were nerves, a few emotions; so it was a mixture. Till I bowled my first over, my nerves were jangling.



CC: In your second Ranji Trophy match you bagged your first five-wicket haul. However, for the next game you had to sit on the bench for a leg-spinner. Was it a bitter pill to swallow considering your impressive performance? Did it motivate you before the famous semi-final?


RS: Cricket isn’t about an individual, it is a team game. On the track at Hyderabad, you needed two spinners and two medium-pacers. I am thankful to Hrishikesh bhai (Kanitkar) and coach Amit Asawa, who kept motivating me after that game and it took my cricket to another level. And yes, that motivated me to deliver in the semi-final.



CC: We now move to the semi-final. Rajasthan were bowled out for 89 in the first innings of the semi-final and the mood in the camp wouldn’t have been very upbeat. Did the coach and captain ask you to do something special or stick to the basics on that helpful track?


RS: That particular wicket was a dream track for me. Lahli was a dream destination. I wore my spikes and was entering the field when Hrishikesh bhai came to me and told me to stick to the basics; bowl the right line and length. That was what I followed. Coach Amit Asawa worked hard on my mindset and kept me focussed on my basics. The result was achieved and I am happy for what I did for the team. 



CC: The devastating run didn’t stop there. The second innings spell of 5 for 37 was pivotal in defending 185. Off the two spells, which one is your favourite and why?


RS: I would rate my effort in the second innings higher. In my very first over, I dismissed Rahul Dewan and it just took off from there. Both the outings in that game were dream spells, but the one in the second essay gave me more satisfaction. This is mainly because it helped in sealing the win for the team. At the end of the day, the team must win, irrespective of whether you pick a fiver or a three-for.



CC: This was Rajasthan’s second consecutive Ranji final. The expectations of you would have rocketed after the semi-final. You enjoyed your time with the bat and also picked up four important wickets. At what point did you feel the trophy was yours?


RS: Once we started batting, Aakash Chopra and Vineet Saxena laid a solid foundation. Their knocks set the tone for us. Their performances were followed by Hrishikesh bhai and Robin Bisht’s fifties. You can see that our top four clicked. We reached 621 and after that on day three when they were three down with their main batsmen, Abhinav Mukund, S. Badrinath and Murali Vijay back in the hut. At that point we got the feeling that we could bring back the trophy.


CC: How would you describe your bowling? What are your strengths and what are the areas you would like to work upon?


RS: Basically, I am a genuine out-swing bowler. I concentrate on hitting the right channels. I like to do the basics right and allow things to fall in place. Of course, there are many areas I want to work upon. I am just 21 and it is just the first step of the ladder that I have climbed.



CC: What your goals and aims for the future? Where do you want to see yourself in about two years from now?


RS: It is hard to comment upon where I would be in two years. But, I would love to see myself knocking the doors of the national team. However, I would have to work really hard and concentrate on my game; figure out the best things for me. For that, I would like my coach, Mr Anil Sinha, to stay with me and coach me the way he has for the last seven years.


(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)