IPL 2024: How Shashank Singh’s hard work is paying off for Punjab Kings

From being coached by Brian Lara to starring for Punjab Kings, Shashank Singh speaks to Lounge about his journey and match-winning season for Punjab Kings

Arun Janardhan
First Published1 May 2024
Shashank Singh is having a fantastic IPL season for Punjab Kings.
Shashank Singh is having a fantastic IPL season for Punjab Kings.(AFP)

When Shashank Singh was at Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in 2022, the team’s batting coach and strategic advisor Brian Lara told him that while power hitters like Andre Russell, bat at number six or seven, he was not one of them. Lara told Singh not to compare himself with “bang-bang sloggers” because he was a “proper batsman”. 

“You are smart, so make sure that you use your smartness. He told me that I can be unique in my own way,” Singh remembers Lara telling him. “I’m not someone who will just slam from ball one, I’m not a bottom-end player who will just hit long sixes. He told me to use my technical knowledge. It’s not that I need big muscles or big power only to hit sixes.”

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Lara’s words have stayed with Singh, and their impact is visible this season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Batting in the middle-lower order for Punjab Kings (PBKS), Singh has had the kind of influence on his team that just a few other players, like Shivam Dube for Chennai Super Kings (CSK), have had. In nine matches so far (before Punjab’s match against CSK on Wednesday), Singh has 263 runs at an average of over 65 and a strike rate of nearly 183. 

But more than the runs scored, what is more important is the way he has scored them and how it has shaped the result—often in Punjab’s favour.

It was in the team’s fourth match of the season, against Gujarat Titans (GT) earlier this month, that Singh found himself coming in at 70-4 in the 9th over, chasing 200. His 29-ball 61, in the company of debutant Ashutosh Sharma (31 off 17), took the team to its second win in four matches.

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“While I was sitting in the dugout, I was told that I would be batting at number six,” says Singh over a Zoom call. “The first thing which came in my mind was all those years I always wanted to bat up the order because, obviously, every batsman would love to bat for more overs rather than just for two,” he says.

“I knew that if I stay till the end, most likely I’ll be able to finish the target. It was more of spending time on the wicket and not playing any fancy shots, which I have not played before… more of watching the ball and reacting to it.”

While Singh has had stints with other IPL teams in the past, Delhi Daredevils and Rajasthan Royals (RR), he got an opportunity to play with SRH two seasons ago. The results were not impressive—a few innings in 10 matches, 69 runs at an average of just over 17 and a decent strike rate of around 145. But there were learnings in those stints.

Conversations with Lara in the dressing room or over a game of table tennis, where the West Indies legend used to talk about street smartness, what angles Singh should use, what his strengths and weaknesses were, had a profound effect. More importantly, Singh learnt to let go of a few things, lessons that were not difficult to understand for a cricketer who has gone through the grind of Mumbai’s competitive local leagues.

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“The few innings I batted (for Hyderabad), when I went to bat, it was more of a difficult situation as compared to this year. But I could have been smarter. I could have chosen better bowlers to hit. But this year, my batting is coming a bit early. I’m getting six, eight overs.”

In PBKS’s last match, against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), Singh came in to bat at number four, with Punjab 178-2 in the 13th over and chasing a target of 261. Opener Jonny Bairstow (108) was blazing at the other end. Singh ended unbeaten with 68 off 28 balls, his eight sixes adding to Punjab’s total of 24 in the innings, as PBKS won by eight wickets with eight balls remaining. It is currently the highest ever successful T20 chase.

“I’ve improved as a player,” he says. “That I can tell you because what I was last year, I’ve improved, because I’m finishing games. I realized it late, that you score runs, you don’t score runs, if the team is not winning, it doesn’t matter. I’m staying there at the end and finishing games.”

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In two other matches, he came close to taking his team home. Against SRH, Singh’s unbeaten 46 off 25 in the company of now-trusted ally Sharma (33 off 15) took PBKS to within two runs of Hyderabad’s total. Against Mumbai Indians (MI), they fell short by nine runs in the chase, when Singh (41 off 25) was undone by a raging Jasprit Bumrah (three wickets for 21 runs).

“I just got deceived by Bumrah. For the first time after like a decade, I faced him—we had played once at the DY Patil Stadium (in Navi Mumbai). Someone like Bumrah, you have to see the ball first because that’s a different, awkward action and his slow one completely beat me.”

Singh had a word with MI’s Surya Kumar Yadav, the world’s number one ranked T20 batter, before the IPL about, as Singh puts it, “batting with intent”. “People tell me to stay cool, stay positive but I have realised that I have a lot of experience. It’s not an overnight change. It’s all those five-six years of actual experience.”

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This IPL has seen several high scores of over 250 in an innings, as a consequence of smaller grounds, quality of power hitters and, Singh adds, practicing with new techniques and spending enough hours on the ground to develop new skills. 

Success may have come a little late for the 32-year-old, used to the drudgery of long travel on local trains in Mumbai for small rewards, but he is enjoying it. “As a Bombay cricketer, you know that when you go to the field, you have to perform anyhow because of the struggles. When you take a one-hour local train from Churchgate to Virar or Kandivali, you make sure that you score a hundred. Otherwise, that struggle of one hour will be disappointing because wapis bhi aana hai (have to return home too). I am lucky that way. It feels good when you score and your team is winning. Everything feels good.”

Arun Janardhan is a Mumbai-based journalist who covers sports, business leaders and lifestyle

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