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T20 World Cup: Mumbai’s Harmeet Singh living his cricket dream in the USA

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It is 2009 and a Ranji Trophy Super League game between Mumbai and Himachal Pradesh is on at the Bandra Kurla Complex ground. A 17-year-old left-arm spinner, Harmeet Singh, is making his first-class debut.

United States’ Saurabh Nethralvakar, left, and Harmeet Singh celebrate after their win in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup cricket match against Pakistan at the Grand Prairie Stadium in Grand Prairie, Texas, Thursday(PTI)

Harmeet vividly remembers his first spell. “Ajit Agarkar (now India chief selector) was fielding at mid-on; he used to play very tough cricket. I was bowling, had taken two wickets on debut, was getting a bit of turn, and was in the middle of the spell. Captain Wasim bhai (Jaffer) hadn’t kept a short midwicket for me. I dropped one short after a couple of overs and was hit for four. From midwicket, Ajit told me: “Harmeet, I’m going this time to fetch the ball; next time if you drop short and he hits a four, you will only have to get the ball.

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“After two-three overs, I again dropped short and got smashed for four. Ajit looked at me and said: “Chal jaa ball leka aa (go fetch the ball)”. I started running after the ball. Imagine (the embarrassment), running after the ball after bowling it. I had covered half the ground when I heard Rohit Sharma’s voice behind me, “Paaji, ruk (You wait)”. Rohit had come running from his position and he got the ball. He was also young in the team.”

For Harmeet, that is the Rohit memory that has stuck, not the number of times he has bowled to him or played with him.

Rohit is Harmeet’s senior from school, coached by Dinesh Lad at Swami Vivekanand School in Borivali. The two have helped put the school on the cricketing map, Rohit by becoming the first student to play for India and Harmeet by helping it win the Giles and Harris Shield inter-school tournaments, for the first time.

“It was the first time a school from the suburbs had won these prestigious school tournaments, so everyone in Mumbai cricket took notice. Our players got picked in Mumbai teams. After playing Under-14, I was made Mumbai U-16 and then U-19 skipper, and also led the West Zone U-19 team. In that debut Ranji game, I took seven wickets and helped Mumbai win after conceding the first innings lead,” said Harmeet, who was part of India’s 2012 U-19 World Cup winning team.

Like Rohit, Harmeet too was seen as a rare talent, though their careers took different turns. At senior level, he didn’t get the same success for various reasons. “Most of them were beyond my control,” he said, referring to the controversies that marred his career in India.

Playing in the T20 World Cup for USA, he will go up against Rohit on Wednesday in New York. For Harmeet, it will also be an opportunity to catch up with old mates.

“I have played with a lot of them, all those from Mumbai — Rohit, Suryakumar Yadav, Shivam Dube – then Sanju (Samson), Kuldeep (Yadav). Axar (Patel) and I were in the India U-19 team.

“They all know my journey. I have played with Rahul bhai (Dravid) also in Rajasthan Royals. He knows me from my younger days at NCA. It will be great to catch up, have a conversation,” said the spinner, who moved to the USA in 2020.

There is extra interest in their game against India after surprising Pakistan. Harmeet didn’t take a wicket but helped build pressure by bowling a tight spell (4-0-34-0). However, he knows India will be a different challenge.

The exposure for the USA cricketers though is growing. They have been hardened by playing in Major League Cricket, which saw quality fields with teams owned by big India franchises. Harmeet, the first pick for Seattle Orcas, co-owned by Delhi Capitals franchise, played in the final which MI New York, owned by Mumbai Indians, won.

Next up for him is the best T20 batter, Suryakumar Yadav.

“There have been some very good encounters between us. He has made runs and has also got out a few times. I can’t forget his blazing hundred for BPCL (Bharat Petroleum) against us (DY Patil Sports Academy). They got 260-plus, and he hit a lot. Once in a Mumbai Premier League game, I had got him out. He was hitting everyone when I came on to bowl, he hit me for six and then got bowled. We played a lot in the same team also in Mumbai age-group teams and club cricket for Payyade.

So, how would he play against Surya? “I always like to bowl against aggressive batters… against Surya, you always have to have a plan, control and variations are very important, and execution. If you miss the execution, he will get you.”

Rohit and Co know the struggles Harmeet has gone through before getting his break in the USA. The lack of chances at senior level in the Mumbai team, his name getting dragged into the spot-fixing controversy that hit Rajasthan Royals in 2013 without basis and the incident where he misread the traffic sign and ended up driving his car into the Andheri station.

The move to USA has helped put it all behind. “It has been a good journey so far. Took a little time (but) whatever I aspired for has come to life. Here I got the appreciation I always craved for, that’s what you want as an athlete.”

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