“Whenever we have a camp in Ranchi, he always comes and practices with the team. And obviously he’s always been a guiding influence on all of us here,” reveals Utkarsh Singh in an exclusive interview with Punjab Kings.
The ‘he’ in question, none other than India’s World Cup winning captain MS Dhoni, who managed to put Jharkhand, and more importantly Jharkhand cricket on the World map. Despite achieving almost everything there is to achieve in the sport, the former Indian captain remains modest, keeping a low profile and discreeting mentoring and helping the next generation of cricketers from his native state of Jharkhand.
One such recipient of Dhoni’s personalised tutoring was none other than new Punjab Kings recruit Utkarsh Singh, who reveals his perspective to the game has completely changed after heeding to the wicketkeeper-batsman’s advice. While he was always an all-rounder, Utkarsh made a name for himself as a hard-hitting batsman, going on to play for the country at various age group tournaments, but it was back home in India, at the advice of one of India’s best players that he managed to add a new dimension to his game.
“I remember him telling me ‘Utkarsh dekh, mujhe sirf ek hei cheez chahiye, I want you to turn the ball every time you’re bowling,” recalls the 22-year-old, referencing to an anecdote of his with MS Dhoni.
“I think this was in 2017, and ever since then I haven’t thought of myself as an all-rounder, while I’m bowling I see myself as a pure bowler and while batting I think of myself as a pure batsman, trying to add value in both departments.
“When I bowl, I think of myself as an off-spinner, and obviously that has helped me a lot in my bowling. And he (Dhoni) has advised me on how to bowl in different situations, how to read and assess the game, and ever since his advice I have made it a point to consciously look to turn the ball more,” added Utkarsh Singh.
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“And turning the ball has definitely helped me as a bowler, because there is always an uncertainty in the minds of the batsmen, be it a right hander or a left hander,” explained the 22-year-old Jharkhand based cricketer.
The change in approach seems to have yielded results on the field as well, as Utkarsh, who managed just six wickets in eight games in the 2018/19 Ranji Trophy season, augmented that tally to 16 wickets in the same amount of games the next time around. Utkarsh Singh picked up three wickets in the 2020 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy as well, while maintaining an economy rate of under six in that competition.
A fleeting piece of advice from MS Dhoni seems to have unearthed Utkarsh Singh’s full potential as a bowler. It may have possibly unearthed the next big all-rounder for Punjab Kings, but most certainly it has helped change the game for Utkarsh Singh.