Manipur has a long history of producing national sporting icons. From Mary Kom, Dingko Singh to Mirabai Chanu, various sportspersons have made India proud at the international stage and became household names. While Manipur has produced numerous stars in Olympics discipline, cricket is not something you associate with the Northeastern state.
In such a scenario, you are bound to sit up and take notice, if a young cricketer from the state starts making the right noises in the domestic circuit. Rex Rajkumar Singh recently created history as he became the first cricketer from Manipur to get selected for a representative India side. Rex was selected for the Under-19 India team for two unofficial Tests against South Africa.
Given an opportunity by coach Rahul Dravid in the second match, Rex returned with four wickets in the second innings as India registered an innings and 158-run win to sweep the series 2-0.
It was in December last year that Rex first made the headlines after he registered the rare feat of taking 10 wickets in an innings. The 18-year-old pacer took all 10 wickets in the second innings of the Cooch Behar Trophy as Manipur defeated Arunachal Pradesh. He also played two Ranji Trophy matches for Manipur in the 2018-19 season.
The journey, however, began in 2011, when Rex took up cricket after watching some of the elders in his neighbourhood play the game.
“I started playing cricket since 2011,” Rex told Firstpost. “Before playing cricket, I practiced Taekwondo for a couple of months but I discontinued it as it didn’t interest me. After that, I saw some elders from neighbourhood playing cricket in the ground in front of my house. I developed an interest in the game from there and started playing it.”
For Rex, a left-arm pacer, his strength has been his inswingers that has often left the batsmen in age-group cricket perplexed. His first breakthrough moment in cricketing circles took place a few years back when he registered a five-wicket haul in a U-16 match against Bihar.
One of the biggest incentives of playing for the U-19 side was the opportunity to work under former India captain Dravid. And the former cricketer also shared a few words of wisdom with the prodigy.
“I am very fortunate to play under Rahul Dravid sir. He is very calm and has a charming personality. He explained to me in detail what to do and what not. I am not very fast, so he advised me to maintain my strength (swing) and told not to try many things as my height is under average. He told me to focus on fitness and training,” said Rex.
— Moulin (@Moulinparikh) December 12, 2018
“I am the first one to play U-19 from Manipur for team India and Rahul Dravid sir encouraged me. It means a lot to me.”
So what improvement does he seek in his bowling?
“I want to increase my bowling speed and improve my control on line and length. I believe that practice will help me to control my swing the way I want,” he added.
Like many Indians, the Imphal-born pacer is also a fan of Sachin Tendulkar but it’s James Anderson who he sees as an inspiration.
The U-19 debut was a nervy moment for the teenager but more importantly, the match provided him with some invaluable experience of high-level cricket.
“I was very excited for my U-19 debut but at the same time, I was nervous as it was my first international match. I tried to overcome my nervousness and play normally. It was a great learning experience.
“I noticed that discipline is the most important thing in an international match. If I make a mistake in a state match, there is a chance to correct it but in international cricket, there is no room for such mistakes and I need to be extra cautious,” added Rex.
The pacer might be the first one from his home state to reach so far but his inclusion in the U-19 side is a mere stepping stone for the bigger dream that he harbours.
“Playing for India U-19 team was my dream. I got that opportunity and in the future, I want to improve more. I want to deliver better performances and correct my mistakes in every possible way. Now, I will give concentrate more on my fitness and training, so that I can play for India as well as in IPL."