Mahinder Pal Singh's name came into the limelight when he was first called up for a camp for emerging fast bowlers and batsmen under the supervision of NCA coaches in 2016. A proud member of Pakistan's Sikh community, Mahinder's desire and passion to represent his country of birth despite setbacks has been second to none.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Mahinder spoke about his desire to become the first Sikh cricketer to represent Pakistan, his struggles as a cricketer due to changes in domestic cricket, his role models which include Waqar Younis, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli and his hope to one day play for Pakistan against India.
By Saj Sadiq (5th October, 2020)
PakPassion.net: Did you always want to be a cricketer?
Mahinder Pal Singh: I’ve always had a passion for cricket. I was born in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province which used to be known as the North-West Frontier Province and which is an area that is cricket-mad. I recall that my school days would be a combination of studying hard and playing cricket at every spare minute of the day. Even at school I just dreamt of being a professional cricketer. Then as time went on, I wanted to be unique and become the first Sikh cricketer to play for Pakistan and be an inspiration to other Sikhs in Pakistan. I wanted to show the Sikh community in Pakistan that if you follow or your dream you can achieve anything
PakPassion.net: What were the alternatives if you didn’t make it as a cricketer?
Mahinder Pal Singh: I have always wanted to proudly represent my country Pakistan in any field. I wanted to join the Pakistan Army and follow in the footsteps of Major Harcharan Singh or Sub-Inspector Amarjeet Singh who was the first Pakistani Sikh officer of the Punjab Rangers.
PakPassion.net: Your family moved from KPK to Punjab, and that seems to be when your cricketing journey really started?
Mahinder Pal Singh: Yes absolutely. After I passed my matriculation exam, my family shifted to Nankana Sahib and then to Lahore where I started to take cricket more seriously. At Nankana Sahib I started playing cricket at proper grounds rather than just playing in the streets with my friends or some tape-ball cricket which I was doing in KPK. Looking back, cricket was something that I just loved playing for fun, but when I moved to Punjab, I realised that I wanted cricket to be my profession.
PakPassion.net: When did you think that you could actually play cricket professionally?
Mahinder Pal Singh: When during tape-ball matches my friends would say to me that they didn’t want to face my bowling as I was too good for them and they would make me stand and umpire. They would continually encourage me to go for trials and try my luck in professional cricket.
PakPassion.net: Away from cricket, I believe you are very well-educated?
Mahinder Pal Singh: I’ve completed a degree and am currently doing a Masters in Sports Science at Lahore Garrison University. I always wanted to have my education to fall back on if things didn’t work out for me in cricket. Professional sport is so competitive that I would always advise anyone wanting to play sport professionally to ensure that they complete their studies so that they have alternative options as a career if everything didn’t go to plan.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel that you could become a role-model and someone the Sikh community in Pakistan can look up to?
Mahinder Pal Singh: Before me, I am only aware of two Sikh cricketers who played cricket in Pakistan. They were fast bowler Bhupinder Singh who played for Government College Lahore and the other was Gulab Singh who was an off-spinner who played Grade II. I’m not sure why they didn’t make it to the highest level of cricket in Pakistan, but that has not been a deterrent for me, or dissuaded me from wanting to be a professional cricketer.
PakPassion.net: As a member of the Sikh community in Pakistan, do you feel that you have been given every opportunity to pursue your dream to become a professional cricketer?
Mahinder Pal Singh: Many people said to me, don’t be silly about playing cricket professionally in Pakistan. They said to me, as a Sikh you have no chance as you will always be discriminated against. But in my heart, there was this burning desire to prove people wrong and I knew that if I worked hard nothing could hold me back. I’ve had to struggle a lot and there have been some very tough days but I am not prepared to give up on my dream. I have encountered discrimination at many levels and some snide comments, but there are good and bad people everywhere. If one out of a 100 people are racist, that means that the other 99 people are not. I tend to focus on the good people who support me and encourage me, rather than worrying about the 1% of the ignorant people who offer negative opinions about me.
PakPassion.net: The Late Abdul Qadir offered you some trials, how did that go?
Mahinder Pal Singh: I went to the Abdul Qadir Cricket Academy in Lahore for trials. He was brilliant and told me in no uncertain terms whether he thought I was good enough to play cricket professionally or whether I should go home and focus on my medical studies which I was doing at that time. He was a great motivation, a great man, very honest and he was a source of inspiration for me. Abdul Qadir said to me I had some quality in my bowling and needed to polish my skills which would take some time. He said to me that I needed to work hard but that one day I would definitely reach the top as a cricketer. His words and encouragement have always stayed with me.
PakPassion.net: How has your progress been in club cricket?
Mahinder Pal Singh: That has been really difficult in Lahore as there is so much competition for places at every club. There are players earmarked to play at every club or district and it’s really tough to break into that set-up. When I started to play in Lahore, I was nearly 19 years old so I was playing catch-up and couldn’t break into the Under-19 system.
PakPassion.net: You went for open trials in KPK which seemed to get you noticed by PCB coaches?
Mahinder Pal Singh: Yes, the trials were being run by former NCA General Manager Ali Zia and also Mudassar Nazar. They had speed guns and they were looking closely at the speeds of the pace-bowlers. The quickest that day was 137KpH and I clocked 133KpH. They were looking for 5 bowlers to take forward and work with at the NCA in Lahore and luckily, I was picked as the 5th bowler. Ali Zia and Mudassar spoke with me, encouraged me a lot and said that I had showed some promise and that I was a bowler they would work with and keep a close eye on.
PakPassion.net: You were picked for a skills camp by the National Cricket Academy coaches. How did that go?
Mahinder Pal Singh: That was in Multan in 2016 and it was a 15-day camp where I got the opportunity to work with some of the best coaches in Pakistan. The National High-Performance Centre in Multan was being inaugurated on the final day of the camp and Inzamam-ul-Haq was there along with PCB Chairman Shahryar Khan. A match was played, and they watched me bowl as I took 1 for 7 in four overs and both Inzamam and Shahryar complimented me on my bowling which was very heartening and gave me a lot of self-belief. They said that they hoped that one day I would become the first Sikh to play for Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: After the camp in Multan how did your career progress?
Mahinder Pal Singh: After Shahryar Khan’s and Inzamam’s comments, I received praise across Pakistan which resulted in my playing Grade II cricket and some District cricket in Lahore in 2017. Also, the Malaysian national team came to Pakistan and I got a chance to play against them and bowled well against them in a Twenty20 match. I continued to make progress and I also got the chance to sign for WAPDA after attending their trials.
PakPassion.net: Why aren’t you playing in the ongoing 2nd XI Twenty20 tournament?
Mahinder Pal Singh: I last played Grade II in 2017, but unfortunately many players who were playing for departments have not been offered contracts or places with current teams. Only some of the players who were playing for departments on a regular basis have been offered places in the current domestic teams. As I had only played the occasional match for my department, at district level or Grade II cricket, I didn’t really stand a chance in the current domestic set up. A lot of the time I was just given the occasional end of season match to see what I could do. I hadn’t come through the Under-16 or Under-17 or Under-19 levels so people didn’t really know who I was and that’s why I’ve not been picked for any of the current domestic teams.
PakPassion.net: What’s your current situation regarding playing in domestic cricket?
Mahinder Pal Singh: I was contracted by WAPDA, but in fact there is no cricket as such being played by them so I am in limbo. The current system considered performances in 2018 as the criteria for choosing players rather than picking players via trials. I’m hopeful that for next season if they have open trials for players to attend, I can get to the trials, show what I can do and find myself picked by one of the domestic teams.
PakPassion.net: You’ve also been provided an opportunity to impress by Lahore Qalandars. Is the Pakistan Super League something that you are keen to play in?
Mahinder Pal Singh: I’ve played a couple of times for the Qalandars after appearing at trials for them. To play for a Pakistan Super League franchise you literally have to be a special bowler. They have guys like Haris Rauf who are bowling 150KpH whereas I bowl around 138KpH these days. I am more of a swing bowler who can swing the ball both ways, so I have to be realistic about my chances with Qalandars. I have asked Qalandars to let me train with them for 1 year and I will pay any fees they want me to. Then after that year, if I am good enough then they can sign me, but if I don’t impress them, then there will be no hard feelings from my side. Unfortunately due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Qalandars have not been able to get all their trials and training centres up and running, so I will just have to wait.
PakPassion.net: At the moment what level of cricket are you playing and for whom?
Mahinder Pal Singh: I am playing club cricket in Lahore for Wahadat Eaglets Club. This is the club that former Pakistan pace bowler Mohsin Kamal played for and Babar Azam played for this club until he was 16 years old. It’s a waiting game really to see how the domestic structure evolves and whether more cricketers are given the chance to show their skills and how in future years cricketers are selected for domestic teams. Currently there are a lot of domestic cricketers like me that were playing for departmental teams who are now discarded and just waiting for a chance.
PakPassion.net: Given the problems some cricketers like yourself are having, is moving abroad an option?
Mahinder Pal Singh: I sympathise with the likes of Mohammad Irfan jr. who is moving to Australia. It can’t have been an easy decision to make to leave his friends and family behind and move abroad, but I can understand why he did it. Also, as I said, there are many cricketers who are signed with departmental teams who are nowhere to be seen and they still have to look after their families, so it’s understandable why sometimes drastic decisions have to be made. I have cousins in England who have said to me many times to try and move there but my first priority is to stay in Pakistan and play cricket here as it’s the country I was born in and brought up in and it’s the country where I want to play cricket and prove myself.
PakPassion.net: You seem to have big dreams and aspirations. Is playing against India one of them?
Mahinder Pal Singh: Absolutely. It would mean so much to me to play for Pakistan against India at any level of cricket. If you ask any cricketer, they will say that they want to play in high-pressure matches, the big occasions where the world is watching. India versus Pakistan is always a special occasion and I would love the opportunity to be a part of this occasion at some point in future in my cricketing career. I would love to be called a hero in a high-tempo match, against a strong opposition and watched by fans all around the world. I have relatives in Punjab in India, my aunt lives there along with many other relatives who we meet on a regular basis. As well as this, I have a lot of fans in India, especially from Punjab who always wish me well and say that if I ever play for Pakistan, they will support me and Pakistan in those matches.
PakPassion.net: Who are your favourite cricketers and role-models and the people who have helped you through your career?
Mahinder Pal Singh: Waqar Younis is my favourite all-time bowler and I love watching videos of his bowling. As well as Waqar, I like how Aaqib Javed bowled. I thought he was an underrated bowler and got key wickets when Pakistan needed them as we saw in the 1992 World Cup tournament. It was great to meet Aaqib and talk about fast bowling when I attended the Lahore Qalandars trials. I’ve also learnt a lot from Mohammad Akram who is currently working for Peshawar Zalmi when he was working at the National Cricket Academy at Lahore. I must also mention Ali Zia the former NCA General Manager who really supported me when he was working for the PCB and really gave me some very useful advice and guidance when all seemed lost. Ali Zia has helped and worked with a lot of cricketers over the years including Shaheen Shah Afridi and has been instrumental in the development of many young cricketers in Pakistan in recent times. From India I am a huge fan of Captain Cool MS Dhoni and I also enjoy watching Virat Kohli bat. I feel that Kohli, Babar Azam and Kane Williamson are on a different level to other modern-day batsmen.
PakPassion.net: Are you still hopeful about your future or is the reality somewhat different now?
Mahinder Pal Singh: I have always had self-belief and my dream is to get to the top in cricket. I just need that chance, that lucky break. I am really hopeful and positive that one day I will get a proper chance to display my skills and talent. I am only 24 years old and have a lot of cricket ahead of me and I feel that whether it’s the Pakistan Super League, First-class cricket or international cricket, my time will definitely come.