Rahul Singh's 99 against Chhattisgarh laid the foundation of victory for Services    Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh’s 99 against Chhattisgarh laid the foundation of victory for Services Rahul Singh

With 874 runs at 72.83 from 8 matches, Rahul Singh is currently third on the Ranji Trophy run-scorers list, after only Priyank Panchal (924) and Rishabh Pant (903). Rahul plays for Services, where cricketers are selected through the Services Sports Control Board from recruits in the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force. Like anyone employed in the military sector, Rahul Singh has had stories of his own. In a recent chat with Rahul after Services beat Chhattisgarh in a thrilling contest by 18 runs, the young lad opened up on his career and well as his past and his nature.

Born in Maniktala, Kolkata, Rahul Singh had moved with his family to Hyderabad at a young age after his father, a CISF personnel, had to make a shift due to professional reasons. Rahul played limited-overs cricket for Hyderabad at a mere 18. He credited his parents and mentor Narsing Rao for his development at a young age: My father has worked very hard and my mentor Narsing Rao. Narsing sir has been the most important in my career. Also, my father has sacrificed his work and everything in his life for me. My father and mother have sacrificed a lot for me. My father pushed me since my childhood to become a cricketer and soon I also got interested in the game. It is because of him that I am a cricketer today.

Rahul was coached by renowned Hyderabad coach Vijay Paul, who is the coach of Pragyan Ojha and also mentored Ambati Rayudu. After playing List A cricket for Hyderabad in 2013 and 2014, he led the Under-19 team of the state in 2014 and next year represented Hyderabad in PS Ram Mohan Roy Trophy.

To be fair to the Hyderabad think-tank, Rahul scored only 30 from 4 innings in List A cricket of those two years. However, things would change. I worked on my basics and work hard on my batting. I improved myself as a batsman. However, I didn t play any List A or Ranji matches in those two years but kept working on my batting, he recollected.

The interview predictably turned towards the reason for his joining The Indian Army: Brijesh Nair, a close friend of mine, who is like an elder brother to me and played for Army, suggested me to join the Army and play for services. Also, coach Bijju-Sir was very interested in taking me. He had a keen interest in me. So last year they asked to join Services but I joined this year. Nair is retiring this year and Sarabjeet Singh will take his place as next Army coach.

Most youngsters in India join The Army to serve the nation, but the reason was entirely different for Rahul: Cricket khelne ke liye aaya main Army mein (I joined Army to play cricket). The 21-year old left-handed batsman continued with his honesty and added, I joined in sports quota and they took me only to play cricket. So I am sports quota bharti . I joined The Army because I had a better scope with Services.

Rahul s current rank in The Army is of a Havildar, and he also wants to serve the Indian Army whenever needed. However, cricket will remain priority for him in the current job role. Rahul also credited the seniors who supported him and other players of Services to practise and play well. They are very supportive. They help us practise a lot. We do not have to work much, we are asked to practise as much as we can, Rahul stated, We have to spent a lot of time for cricket. From morning to evening, we have to do cricket activities, work out.

Before going for the chat with Rahul, I noticed an interesting statistic about him. In the ongoing Ranji Trophy season, he has somehow developed a knack of getting out of one short of round figures. It started with 89 against Goa, which was followed by 49 against Hyderabad and 99 against Chhattisgarh in the recent match. Rahul laughed, followed by a smile on his face when asked about this. His response was simple: I really felt very bad after getting out on 99 but it is a learning process and it happens sometimes. I need to learn from those things. Ranji Trophy 2016-17 Points Table & team standings

Having said that, after getting out on 99 against Chhattisgarh, Rahul looked very disappointed and sat around the ropes for more than five minutes in regression.

Most domestic cricket boards in India are run by politicians. However, it is a very different story for Services. Only officers can become selectors and run the Services cricket team.

It was his 99 against Chhattisgarh that turned the game in favour of Services. Rahul scored at a rapid pace, getting his runs off only 109 balls. He did not play rash shots. He played some spectacular shots. I am naturally an aggressive batsman. Since I was a small boy, I had a habit of keep hitting the balls and I like to play aggressively, he said.

His idol has been a simple choice, and it is not a left-hander: I idolise Virat Kohli. I like his consistency. The way he plays and every ball he plays very positively, so I follow him. He has inspired the current generation.

I also asked him about the competition with Priyank and Pant for the top spot. He sounded confident: I am trying to overtake them and I am aiming at least 1,000 runs in this season.

Being naturally aggressive, Rahul bluntly agrees that he likes to sledge, and often ends up getting sledged: Sledging is also natural for me. I like to sledge and I like to bat when they are sledging. It gives me confidence and motivates me to perform better. So I do sledging and it is fun between players.

It has been well over half a century that Hemu Adhikari s men had reached the Ranji Trophy finals in two consecutive seasons. Not only did Adhikari, the ubiquitous army-man, instil a sense of fitness in the side, he also got together and groomed a group of extremely competent men. Not only were Services a dominant force in the 1950s and early 1960s, they also gave India several Test cricketers in Narain Swamy, Apoorva Sengupta, Raman Surendranath, Bal Dani and VM Muddiah.

Maybe Rahul will join that elite list of Services Test cricketers.

(Abhishek Kumar is a cricket devotee currently staffing with CricLife and CricketCountry.com. He can be followed at @abhik2593)