Of fulfilling father’s big dreams and the Lara factor: Shashank’s tale of setbacks and triumphs


Shashank Singh had a stellar season for PBKS
Shashank Singh had a stellar season for PBKS (PC -BCCI)

How will you face setbacks? Are you mentally strong enough to navigate one hurdle after another and chart out a successful path? How do you visualise yourself in a couple of years’ time? Life in general asks every single human the above-mentioned questions and some more. And sport is a microcosm of it as an athlete is constantly negotiating different challenges – both physical and mental – from injuries to loss of form and self-belief. 

Shashank Singh is one of those sportspersons, who has had to paddle his way through a morass of difficult phases. After playing for different domestic teams, he finally made the cut into the Indian Premier League (IPL). Even then he didn’t get the necessary opportunities when he was with Delhi Daredevils and Rajasthan Royals. When he made it to the XI at Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2022, he was batting a little too far down the order. 

Amid all those frustrations, there was a silver lining for Shashank: A chance to gain insights from one of the greats of the game, Brian Lara. In 2022, Lara was roped in by Sunrisers as the batting coach and strategic advisor. “When I was with SRH, it was the Covid years,” Shashank told RevSportz. “Obviously, we spent a lot of time together, because we were mostly in the hotel itself. Maybe, while playing a table tennis or carrom match, he used to tell me that I always batted at No. 7 for SRH. So, there was a thing in my mind that I have got the finisher’s role and I have to tonk the ball like Russell, who just comes and tonks the ball. 

“He then told me, ‘You’re a proper batter and you can bat at any number from 1 to 7. It is just that in this competition, you’re batting at No. 7. Maybe, Russell can’t hit over covers like you do. The same way, you can’t smash the ball like Russell hits.’ He told me about my strengths, that it is better to time the ball rather than hit it hard. It is better to use the angles. If someone is bowling the yorkers, don’t try to hit it straight, use the angle and crack it square of the wicket. You have the lap shot as well, use it whenever you feel like you don’t have any option. First, trust your game. So, he helped me in knowing my game better.”

When Shashank brought up the point of how he imbibed Lara’s wisdom of using the angles in the field, it also transported yours truly to a bygone era – The 1993 ODI series between West Indies and Pakistan. Lara had essayed a couple of blinders in tricky conditions at Kingston and Port Spain. In the second game of that series, there were two shots that still evoke memories of Lara’s imperious aura. 

He drove Amer Nazir’s full-length delivery that was bowled in the channel via square of the wicket on the off-side. And there was a similar ball ushered in by Waqar Younis, where Lara employed the cover drive. It was how he used the angles in the field to play two different strokes to a couple of similar offerings that stood out. For Shashank, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to listen to Lara’s pearls of wisdom.

“When someone like Brian Lara comes to you and talks, you will listen to him, just because of respect and the way he has played his cricket,” he said. “For example, if you come and tell me, ‘You played this way or that way’, I will listen to you but not the way Brian Lara sir comes and speaks. Obviously, I trusted him a lot.”

Shashank didn’t just listen to Lara’s valuable thoughts and ideas, but he also put them into practice. During the 2023-24 Vijay Hazare 50-over tournament, he crunched two hundreds and accumulated 450 runs at an astounding strike rate of 125. Despite achieving success, there were inner battles to conquer ahead of the 2024 IPL season, where he would be a part of Punjab Kings’ franchise. He put all those not-so-good past experiences behind him and went on to play game-changing knocks.

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Shashank Singh won it for PBKS against GT (Image: IPL)

“I never expected it to go so well,” he said. “Before, whenever I played, it was 4-5 games. For SRH, I did play 10 games but five games I couldn’t bat, because of my batting number, I was batting at number 7, our top order was finishing. Before, when I was with Rajasthan and Delhi, I couldn’t get a game. This year also when I stepped in, as a human, you have a tendency to think about the past. So, I thought I will get through games, I will try to sort my next year, because next year is the mega auction. But the Gujarat game went well, the RCB game too. So, I got the confidence that I might get all the games, if I keep doing well.”

His heroics against Gujarat Titans, in particular, will echo for many more years in the cricketing landscape. In that match, his side were in dire straits at 70 for 4, in a chase of 200. Let’s hear from the man himself about his game-breaking effort. 

“Before that Gujarat match, I had batted at 7 for three games,” he said. “Sanjay Bangar sir backed and told me, ‘You go in at 6.’ They felt Jitesh can bat 7, as I should take the game a bit deeper. I tried to take the attack to the opposition, the spinners were bowling.  So, when I was sitting in the dugout, I felt this was an opportunity for me. All my life I wanted to bat up the order, I will just go out and play my cricketing shots, I won’t play some fancy shots like reverse lap or reverse sweep, which I am not good at. 

“I never looked at the scoreboard. I just wanted to play 20 overs. If I play 20 overs, I will make sure my team is on the winning side. That match, I was just seeing how many balls were left.  When around 17-20 runs were needed off two overs, that is when I and Ashutosh [Sharma] said to each other, ‘This is Mohit bhai’s over, the end is shorter. So, we have to take this over, because the last over, we will get a longer end.’ We planned that way. Luckily, by God’s grace, it all went well.”

Shashank shutting out the scorecard pressure while facing GT gives an inkling that his batting is a lot more than just power-hitting. He showcased more of his batting smarts in the PBKS-KKR game as he looked to play with a degree of caution while up against the opponent’s bowling mainstay, Sunil Narine. A certain Jonny Bairstow’s timely words also helped him to negotiate the threat as the duo scripted a jailbreak by hunting down a monstrous target of 262.

“That was unreal to be very honest,” he said. “The way Jonny batted, the way Rilee [Rossouw] did, the way Prabhsimran batted. Initially, I was struggling against Narine. Jonny (Bairstow) at the other end was saying, ‘Shashank, stay calm, don’t think you’re getting beaten, I know if you stay till the end, we will finish the match with one over to spare.’ It was getting difficult for me to pick him, so I was just trying to rotate his bowling for singles. Rest of the bowlers, I knew that if I keep my head still and have a good balance, I can smash them, because the wicket was extremely good to bat on. So, I was just backing myself and trying to be a bit smarter.”

The year was 1996. The same year in which India slipped to an ignominious defeat in the World Cup semifinal to Sri Lanka. Shailesh Singh, father of Shashank, had decided that his son would be a cricketer. Shailesh’s ambition was further nurtured by Shashank’s childhood coach. It wasn’t always easy for Shashank as he had his share of self-doubt. But all three of them rigorously pursued one goal – Shashank’s path to the highest level. 

“It was always my dad’s dream that I should play at the highest level,” said Shashank. “I was born in Bhilai. I was there only for a few months, so I don’t have too many fond memories. After 2-3-4 years, my father used to get transferred. Dad used to bowl at me, my sister would pick up the ball. It was my late coach Vidya Paradkar, who told me that I have the talent to play at the highest level. So, I should take it up as a profession and work even harder. 

Shashank Singh in action (Image: IPL)

“He is no longer with us, but he will be proud of me, I feel. There were times my father and the coach used to sit till midnight. They were telling me how to bat and it was very difficult for me to listen to them. But they were so passionate about my cricket. With time, it became my dream as well.”

Shashank steadily climbed up the ladder through the junior ranks. But when he shifted over to Mumbai, the robust and competitive cricketing system in that city served as an eye-opener. “I played Under-15 and 17 for Madhya Pradesh,” he said. “But when we went to Mumbai, it completely changed my thinking around cricket. I felt that I have to work hard, if I have to take it up as a profession. The things I have to work on. When you see players like Suryakumar, Siddhesh Lad, Abhishek Nayar and all these players from Mumbai, the way they practice. The talent they have in them, still they practice so much and their mindset towards the game.”

He made his Mumbai senior team debut in 2015. Unfortunately, the chances were far and few between. Subsequently, he even plied his trade for Puducherry before moving to Chhattisgarh in 2019-20. Intriguingly, in that season, he had played a vital role in helping his state defeat his former side, Mumbai, in a limited-overs match. In the midst of disappointments during his stint with Mumbai, there was one innings which gave him ample belief that he belonged to higher levels.

“I played a match against the South African XI,” he said. “So, what happened was that it was our pre-season. There was a T20 World Cup in India. So, at that time, the South African team was also here, they were playing a practice game against Mumbai A. I got selected for Mumbai A. For the first time, I faced bowlers like Dale Steyn. [Kagiso] Rabada was there, and Morne Morkel. 

“I had played state cricket before also, but when you face bowlers like Steyn, Morkel, Rabada, you feel you belong to this level. I got only 23 runs off 25 balls and hit four-five fours. I also played one game against England. Those 23-25 runs gave me the confidence that ‘Okay, I can play at this level, I can face the best of the bowlers.’ My mindset kind of changed towards cricket.”

Here is a cricketer who had to steer through the fine lines of pain and agony innumerable times. And finally, at the age of 32, he has cracked the code to flourish at a higher level. Shashank, though, doesn’t seem to sit back on his laurels. Even after a stellar season for PBKS, he recalls that one game against Mumbai Indians where he could have shown better tactical nous. “The other day, the way I got out to Bumrah, I could have been smarter,” he said. “I could have tried to play out a maiden as well, because we needed 20-odd runs in the last 4 overs and that is easily chasable.”

He might go on to rewrite a few pages from his idol’s batting manual. “I like to follow AB de Villiers, though I can’t bat like him, because he is a 360-degree player,” he said candidly. But through simple virtues of life – patience, perseverance and work ethic – Shashank has laid the framework to fulfil the dream of his father. 

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