The Andheri station is almost always choc-a-bloc with a sea of people, especially on a Monday morning. The local train going towards Churchgate is full to the brim, and there is hardly even space to keep a foot on the platform. Right next to platform No. 1 is a ramp that has been installed to assist handicapped people. This unassuming ramp turned out to be the reason for one of the 351 listed players getting snubbed in the IPL auctions this year.
As things turned out, Harmeet Singh, a Ranji cricketer, was behind the wheel of a Hyundai Verna that ended up on the platform of the station in bizarre circumstances, on the morning of February 20. The driver mistook the ramp to be the entrance to the car park.
And, ill-informed news agencies mistook Harmeet Singh for Harpreet Singh Bhatia.
Two days before the incident, Harpreet had eaten into the South Zone bowling line-up with a thunderous 92 off 52 balls in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. He had ended the tournament with 212 runs from four games, at an average of 52.75.
But news agencies picked up the Andheri station story and circulated it using Harpreet’s name and photo. As it turned out, just a day before the IPL auction, the teams got a whiff of it and became sceptical about selecting someone in the news for the wrong reasons. Little did they know it was a case of wrong name, wrong story.
Harmeet Singh was arrested, and Harpreet Singh Bhatia, the highest run-getter in the 2017 Syed Mushtaq Ali, was ignored in the IPL auctions.
“I was really disappointed then. The feeling was not at all good. But, it has been covered now with the RCB selection. Three days back, I got a call from the manager at RCB who asked me to come to Bangalore.”
Harpreet was named as a replacement for the injured Sarfaraz Khan for the remainder of IPL 2017. Sarfaraz, in another twist of fate, suffered a leg injury while fielding in the last of the pre-season practice sessions. Since Harpreet had been on the original auction list, he was up for grabs.
The 25-year-old isn’t new to the IPL system, having been associated sporadically with the tournament since 2010. He was first a part of the Kolkata Knight Riders, and followed it up with a brief stint with the now-defunct Pune Warriors India camp.
He spoke exclusively to Sportskeeda after getting inducted to the RCB team.
“I will completely use the previous experience to do well this time. I have a fair idea about how things work in the IPL”.
Only four IPL appearances in seven years for a player of his calibre would have worried someone else, but Harpreet acknowledged that he needed to fine-tune his batting in some parts. “As a sportsperson, you just can’t feel down. You always have to be confident. I had to rectify a few things and I went back to the domestic circuit to correct the same.”
Now, the new and improved Harpreet has been on fire, especially in the domestic tournament of the shortest version.
His batting yells out authority, with a clean, crunching sound emanating when the leather meets the bat. Possessing the flair of a young Yuvraj Singh, the well-built 25-year-old can clear ropes with ease, and has a penchant for picking lengths of spinners pretty quickly. No surprises then, when he spells out the name of his role-model.
“I used to follow Matthew Hayden’s batting a lot. I really like going after the bowling by attacking over the covers.”
He has been in scintillating touch for Madhya Pradesh and Central Zone, and credits his success to the strong state coaching that he has received. Apart from Suresh Reddy, his coach, he is indebted to Amay Khurasiya, Nitin Kulkarni, Mukesh Sahni and the likes, who have backed him to the hilt. Surprisingly, he started off as a leg-spinner.
“When I started off, I was a leg-spinner, but I always wanted to bat. Based on my interest, the switch happened automatically.”
He now bowls medium pace, and is used as a partnership breaker by his state team when needed.
“I am concentrating on my batting mainly. Being an all-rounder and all, that [bowling] is part and parcel, but I am ready for that if the team needs me.”
While the Royal Challengers Bangalore might be struggling to find form, with only two wins from six games, Harpreet isn’t too worried by the slow start. He believes that “that’s how things work in the IPL”.
“The Bangalore team tends to start like this, but we’ve seen recovery happen quickly as well.”
While the RCB side is top heavy, with the triumvirate of Gayle, Kohli and de Villiers at the top, the middle order tapers off due to the inexperience and lack of a proper power hitter in the ranks. That’s exactly where Harpreet can come in.
“A batsman would obviously want to play up the order, but I can fit wherever the team needs me to. There is no demand from my side. (Even if I am asked to open with Virat), I will be up for the task, because the team would need me to do it.”
The same team also has Mandeep Singh, Harpreet’s teammate from the 2010 U19 World Cup, and the duo is sure to hit it off well once again. However, he might miss another teammate from the India colts batch, one of the stars of the previous edition for RCB.
“I have had a really good rapport with KL Rahul (right from the U-19 days), he’s a really good batsman, and we both know our game well.”
He isn’t overawed by the prospect of rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of world cricket in the RCB camp. Be it AB de Villiers or Chris Gayle, Harpreet believes that “everyone in the team is the same, and all of us are on a mission. We have our targets in front of us and my primary aim will be to contribute to the team’s cause.”
The ghosts of the past are buried, and Harpreet has already jelled into the RCB set-up, having been attending practice sessions for close to a week now. The near-namesake muddle is a thing of the past, and Harpreet is itching to start with a clean slate.
Just like in cricket, life throws in the odd googly. Harpreet might have been bamboozled by the first one, but this time, he has come down the track and slayed the turn, just like he does with a bat in hand.