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When the cult of Rinku Singh hit the IPL

Monday evenings in Aligarh mean only one thing: Kachauri and jalebis at the Bada Bazaar. 

If the locals of the Nawabi state looked up from their steaming plates, they would have seen one of their most popular sons enjoy his moment of glory that has long evaded him. 

On Monday (May 2), the tide turned for Kolkata Knight Riders with a win over Rajasthan Royals but perhaps not as significantly as it did for Aligarh’s first IPL recruit, Rinku Singh, making his 13th appearance spanning five years.

His unbeaten knock of 42 from 24 balls, hitting six fours and a six, may have come as a surprise to many but amongst them wasn’t Rinku. A measure of his self-affirmation was scripted on his palm, which he revealed after the game. On the morning of the match, he had written the number ‘50’ and drawn a heart under it, prophesying his moment in the limelight with an impactful half-century.   

“I had a feeling that I was going to score some runs and be the man-of-the-match so I wrote ‘50 not out’ and drew a heart on my palm. I have been waiting for this moment all along and had a gut-feeling that I was going to contribute significantly. It finally came after five long years!” he said beaming customarily. 

There is a certain degree of romanticism in Rinku’s struggles that has seen him become a cult hero among Twitteratis across the country and it reached a crescendo en route to his finest hour in the sport on Monday. 

Coming from a humble background, his father sold LPG cylinders to feed his family of five sons. Rinku almost became a sweeper to support his family at a time when they faced a financial debt of rupees 5 lakhs but he stuck to cricket, initially struggling to fund his ambitions after his parents refused to support him. But determined to make it big, he found external support and gradually climbed the ladder through the age groups to make his Ranji Trophy debut for Uttar Pradesh. 

He currently averages 64.08 in first-class cricket and 50.50 in List A. In the three IPL games he has played this season so far, he often batted in the eye of the storm and scored crucial runs. A 28-ball 35, coming in with the side tottering at 34 for 4 against Gujarat Titans, was followed by a 16-ball 23 against Delhi Capitals in a rearguard 62-run partnership with Rana. Against the Royals, the Rana-Rinku show continued with a 66-run fourth-wicket partnership with Rinku playing the aggressor. 

His athleticism in the field as a substitute fielder, taking four catches in the game against the Titans and two against the Royals, and even in training led James Foster, KKR’s fielding coach, to single him out for praise. “Your attitude is right up there. Currently, I think we can all add a little bit of Rinku in our life,” he said during a team meeting last season. 

"He's an amazing story. He's been around the franchise now for a long period of time,” Head Coach Brendon McCullum said after the match against the Royals.

“Before the first game that he played, I was lucky enough to spend a little bit of time with him. He knew for his own self-worth and his own career, he needed to make a statement in this competition. He was able to do it in the first game. He's such a great team man, a wonderful human being and the real vibe and culture of the group is set by Rinku. His older brother and Nitish Rana as well were out there with him and I think that gave him great confidence. Some players just deserve to have things go their way and Rinku is one of them.”

While the wait for his maiden IPL half-century goes on, one senses that it won’t take as long as five years.