For 18-year-old Mandeep Singh, to be inside the Kolkata Knight Riders dressing room was a surreal experience. He had appeared for India in U-19 World Cup in January of 2010, played a solitary game for Punjab in Vijay Hazare Trophy in February and a month later, found himself surrounded by the likes of Chris Gayle, Sourav Ganguly and Shane Bond, in the KKR setup.
After waiting for some games to get his debut, and when he eventually got the chance against Mumbai Indians in Mumbai, Mandeep was equally excited and nervous as he was going to watch his idol Sachin Tendulkar bat from close quarters.
For someone who had grown up watching Tendulkar bat and score runs and cheered each one of those boundaries and sixes sitting in front of a TV set, the world had flipped upside down for him. He was suddenly asked to stop the same man from scoring runs because he was in the opposition team. It was a tumultuous occasion, but it gave a huge satisfaction that Sachin and him were playing in the same match. Mandeep did not even get to bat in the match but that would never be a reason to forget his IPL debut.
“What I remember (from that debut match) is fielding and watching Sachin Tendulkar bat in that match from close quarters,” Mandeep told Firstpost.
“He was the one, like many of us, who inspired to take up the sport. I started playing cricket because of Sachin Tendulkar. He was a school to me while growing up. And now, to see him field, was incredible. I was having total fun, to be honest. Just being in that moment. That was surreal. He was batting right in front of me and the stadium was jampacked. That was the first time I was playing a match with or against him. And he had demolished us. He had hit us all over the park. But to be honest, I was having great fun as well watching him bat. We ended up losing the match but I was somewhere also happy for the fact that there was Sachin Tendulkar in my first IPL match,” said Mandeep, whose voice gave a peek into that 18-year-old over the phone.
File picture of Mandeep Singh. AP
It was a fantasy land in the early days for Mandeep, who was star struck and in disbelief all the time, watching the big guns go about, sharing the dressing room with them and travelling from one city to another, to play cricket and staying in the big hotels.
“Sometimes, I used to think, how did I come here? At the very start, I have to say, I was star struck. Also, staying in the big hotels and travelling. It was very strange and awesome. And slowly, everything settled down, as I began bonding with other players,” Mandeep recalled.
Of many surreal things happening with him during that edition, the one more worth mentioning is his meeting with Shah Rukh Khan. The KKR co-owner, who was passionately involved in the functioning of the team, had called him and the other debutant Harpreet Singh to his room for a chat. Mandeep still remembers that chat.
“We all had seen Shah Rukh in films and I thought I was going to meet Shah Rukh Khan. That was a big thing for me. I don’t think so I would have got a more better start before my debut match,” said Mandeep.
“He spoke to us in Punjabi also. He said don’t be scared, just play your natural game and as the Punjabis are known for, play like a warrior. That talk really calmed me down.”
A new team, a dream-like dressing room, jam-packed stadiums, a bollywood star as a cheerleader and a million watching in their homes, Mandeep’s 18-year-old self looks at all of this as a freakish yet learning experience. The crowd cheering him from behind as he saved a boundary as a substitute fielder, was an unexpected happening. It remains an unforgettable experience for him. But he also remembers that Brett Lee ball that got him out after he had hit the Australian pacer for a boundary the previous bowler. That was also a learning.
With no T20 experience behind him, he was a seeker of valuable inputs from the format itself.
“I was only 18, and from childhood, I was told to defend, if the ball went a certain distance off the bat in the nets, the coach used to ask you to pack your bags and leave and here suddenly, you had to score quick runs. I think that season also gave me a lot of learning in terms of how to approach batting in T20s,” said Mandeep.
Yet, for Mandeep, the thrill and fun of playing, for the first time, in IPL, is hard to forget.
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