The curious case of Kanwaljit Singh

The curious case of Kanwaljit Singh

Nearly Men

Kanwaljit Singh

Kanwaljit Singh’s love for off-spin is akin to a parent’s love for his child. “Every time I bowled, I could hear the whizzing sound of the ball spinning. The close-in fielders would always tell me they heard the sound,” he says.

In every Kanwaljit story, the former Hyderabad spinner is praised as a ‘genuine’ off-spinner by peers and greats alike. Between the 80s and 90s, Kanwaljit owned the title of the purest operator. “Off-spin bowling came naturally to me and I am very proud that I impressed the best in the game during my time,” the Hyderabad stalwart tells DH.

If only accolades earned a place in the national team, India wouldn’t have had many out of the ordinary tales of nearly men. Cricket’s dog-eat-dog world produced some fine gems but also killed the big dreams of gifted players. Kanwaljit was someone who revelled while challenging his competitors.

In Hyderabad, the success of Shivlal Yadav, Arshad Ayub and Venkatapathy Raju forced Kanwaljit to give his best. While the trio went on to play for the country, Kanwaljit never wore India colours. Selectors’ inclination towards Shivlal and Ayub in particular hurt Kanwaljit’s chances during his prime.

The feeling of failure can break anyone’s spirit. But Kanwaljit hung on. “Look I loved playing it hard. I was very tough in my mind. I believed in making my competitors sweat,” he says.

Kanwaljit’s impressive record makes his case more puzzling. Spotted first by former India all-rounder Syed Abid Ali in a corporate game, Kanwaljit enjoyed big seasons. After picking up 51 wickets in the 1998-99 first-class season, he bagged 62 in the next. “I remember getting over 150 wickets across three consecutive seasons. I really bowled well post 1995,” he says in a proud tone.

He believes there was nothing else he could have done to get a ticket to the Indian team. So what went wrong? “That’s the saddest part,” he says. “Inspite of getting so many wickets, I have not played for India. So somewhere, something went wrong,” he says.

It’s no secret that Kanwaljit was upset with the selectors’ “indifference” towards him. “During a Ranji Trophy game, I remember a chairman of selectors asking me ‘where have you been all these years?’ Isn’t it a shameful statement from a man in such a big post? I have had selectors telling me that all their misdeeds would be forgiven if I played for India. I have gone through all these and it’s nothing but rubbish,” the 62-year-old, who now coaches Nagaland, fumes.

After 369 wickets from 111 games, Kanwaljit called it quits at end of the 2000-01 season. Despite facing constant snub from the selectors, Kanwaljit’s longevity stands out. “I loved cricket. My love for the game was backed by my hard-work. My determination is what helped me do whatever I did in my career. Today when I look back, I am glad that my hard work paid off,” says the 62-year-old.