India, Hartlepool, Wimbledon, Walsall is an unusual route into Warwickshire’s youth system.
That was the route taken by Anurag Singh, however, as the talented young batsman, particularly fluent through the off-side, learned his trade at the Bears, like so many, under the guidance of coaches of Neal Abberley, Steve Perryman and Steve Rouse.
Singh’s career was to never fully take flight at Edgbaston. While Warwickshire were winning the treble in 1994, Singh was captain of King Edward’s School, Birmingham, and, though he made his championship debut the following year, he would play only 52 first-team games for the Bears before joining Worcestershire in 2001.
His recollections of those formative days at Edgbaston, however, are only fond.
"I saw Rousey at the 125th anniversary dinner last year and we recalled how, when he bowled at me in the nets, he used to try to hit me on the head – no helmets then, aged 13!"
His parents both doctors, Singh arrived in England, up at Hartlepool on the north-east coast, aged one. The family soon moved to Wimbledon and then to Walsall where he went to primary school before attending King Edward’s.
In the West Midlands, his cricket properly fledged – after an expert opinion down south suggested that a career in the sport could be a serious option.
“As a boy in Roehampton I played with the older kids and Dad saw I seemed to be holding my own,” recalls Singh. “So he saved up to send me for one coaching session at the Alf Gover School at The Oval. I literally had one session and dad asked Alf: ‘Is he any good?’ He said: ‘Yes, he’s got decent hand-eye – he’s got a chance if he works at it.
“Shortly after that we moved to Walsall and at 11 I was already under the auspices of Messers Abberley, Rouse and Perryman. They were great. I saw Rousey at the 125th anniversary dinner last year and we recalled how, when he bowled at me in the nets, he used to try to hit me on the head – no helmets then, aged 13! He’d come over the wicket and round the wicket and dig them in, but that was part of what toughened you up and got you ready for the adult game.
“Perrers would send down four outswingers then one massive in-ducker that cleaned you up and you realised that bowlers could do that. Then there was Abbers – all the basics he taught are applicable in the game now and always will be. They all brought something different so it was a really good mix of coaching staff.
“I made my debut against Northamptonshire in 1995 and could hardly believe that I was sharing a dressing room with all these great players. I remember fielding at square leg and David Capel pulled one off Allan Donald and I jumped up and took what was quite a good catch for me. It stuck and that gave me a lot of confidence.
“Fielding short leg to A.D was a great experience because you could literally see the fear in these professional batsmen’s eyes. You always thought you were in the game and they were going to fend one off to you.”
Singh’s cricket career was up and running. He went on to take a central role in a historic day for English cricket. When Somerset visited Edgbaston in July 1997 for the inaugural day-nighter in England, Singh was made man-of-the-match for an accomplished 86 which set up the Bears’ 35-run win. In August the following year he shared two big stands with Brian Lara – 156 against Middlesex at Lord’s and 145 against Northamptonshire at Northampton.
In 2000, Singh and Nick Knight’s record opening stand of 185 lifted their side to Benson & Hedges Cup semi-final victory over Hampshire. The final ended in a rain-affected, Duckworth/Lewis defeat to Gloucestershire but Singh’s reputation as a batsmen was growing.
While he learned the cricket trade, however, he had also immersed himself in another. He took a law degree at Cambridge University and the two strands of his working life were to run parallel until 2006 when he turned fully to law.
“Some people have described me as the last of the ‘un-professional’ because in a way I was never a full-time cricketer,” he said. “After Cambridge I had to start Law School quickly so ended up having to run the legal career absolutely parallel with cricket. Apart from one three-month stint in Australia, I spent every winter either at Law School or working at Wragge & Co, which is now Gowling WLG in Birmingham, where I still work. I am very grateful that I did it that way, the way things out with my career being ended by injury. I do sometimes look back and wonder if things might have been different if I had fully committed to cricket but it was a head-over-heart decision.
“When I played, there wasn’t the money in the game there is now. England hadn’t won a Test series for donkey’s years and were getting blown away by everybody and there was a revolving door in the England team. Peter Roebuck wrote several times that Anurag Singh should be in the England team now, off the back off an Under 19s tour to West Indies I went on with Freddie Flintoff and Marcus Trescothick and Vikram Solanki, but something in my head was saying ‘you can’t waste this law degree from Cambridge.’ So I kept both tracks running.
“Part of me thinks if I had devoted myself to cricket 12 months a year and got myself super fit and super strong and played more games, what might have happened? But the way things turned out I have absolutely no regrets.”
Singh moved to Worcestershire in search of more first-team cricket and then on to Nottinghamshire where his career came to a sudden and very debilitating end which entirely vindicated his decision to pursue that legal career.
“Warwickshire offered me an extension and turning it down is a decision that, in some ways, I regret even though I had my best years at Worcester and played more first-team cricket there,” he said. “Michael Powell had come in as captain so I didn’t know which way he wanted to go with the team. Ian Bell was coming through. I was playing in the one-day team but not the championship and Worcestershire were courting me. I thought I might return to the Bears one day, but it wasn’t to be.
“Then Nottinghamshire signed me as a replacement for Kevin Pietersen who then didn’t move! I played mainly one-day cricket for Notts before it all ended very suddenly. We were playing Yorkshire at Trent Bridge and somebody square cut a ball and I dived for it – and knew my career was over before I hit the deck. It was really weird. I almost started to think about my career after cricket before I had hit the ground. I knew it was going to be bad – and it was. I dislocated and fractured the shoulder but, most seriously, tore my auxiliary nerve. My left arm was paralysed for 14 months. I knew it was over and had to face the decision that every professional cricketer eventually faces.
“You can go two ways when your career ends, either try to stay involved in the game or close that door and go and do something completely different. That’s the route I took.”
"A senior partner John Crabtree told me: ‘We are recruiting you because we think you will be a good lawyer, not for the publicity of recruiting a cricketer."
Singh focused fully on a legal career which has now taken him to the position of corporate law Mergers & Acquisitions partner based at the Birmingham office of global law firm Gowling WLG. He has a broad brief, including the role of deputy client partner for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games while his expertise also covers automotive manufacturing and electric vehicles. He also heads up the company’s India group.
“Gowling’s were always very supportive,” said Singh. “A senior partner John Crabtree told me: ‘We are recruiting you because we think you will be a good lawyer, not for the publicity of recruiting a cricketer. They were incredibly flexible and they are a brilliant company to work for.”
And as for cricket…well the runs and wickets in the Singh family now come from daughter Indira.
“I’ve played the odd game for the MCC in the last 13 years,” he said. “And I did get 50-odd not out for the Warwickshire Legends v Worcestershire Legends in 2017 – to be honest, I hit the ball better than when I was playing so I signed off in style! It was the first time my daughters had seen me play so that was nice.
“Indira is a very promising all-rounder and has just got into the Warwickshire coaching set up. I didn’t give her any cricket coaching and paid thousands of pounds for tennis lessons but her school started to play cricket and she loves it. The school put her forward for a county trial and she’s got through. So now she is getting some specialist coaching from Jamie Spires’ team at Complete Cricket and is in the Bears’ system.”
There have been a few father-and-sons to play cricket for Warwickshire down the years. Now perhaps the first father-and-daughter is on the way…
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