Singh delight at Ireland debut
Nick Royle (Times Ireland)
Sportsmen miss matches for all kinds of reasons. Injury, illness, paternity leave, family matters. Missing a game for your country to become a citizen of that country is one of the more unusual ones.
But that is what happened to Simi Singh, the YMCA all-rounder who on Sunday became the first India-born cricketer to represent Ireland in a one-day international.
His citizenship ceremony took place in Dublin on 21 April, in the middle of the Ireland Wolves' six-match tour of England, so Singh had to declare himself unavailable for the 'A' team match against Gloucestershire Seconds that day.
36 hours later, after leaving Bristol as an Indian citizen, he returned to link up with his team-mates again as a fully-fledged Irishman.
Singh has been in Ireland since 2006, and has dreamed of representing his adopted country for 11 years, but admits it took some soul-searching before he finally made the decision to swap his Indian passport for an Irish one.
"You have to give up your Indian citizenship if you take up citizenship of another country," he said.
"I wasn't sure whether I was ready to do that, but I spoke to my parents, and they left the decision to me.
"I decided that I had made my life in Ireland, and I was ready. I am fully Irish now, not Indian!"
The citizenship ceremony itself was a bit surreal for Singh, as both the presiding judge and the Tanaiste mentioned the importance of cricket in helping the new Irish to assimilate.
"Frances Fitzgerald made a speech asking us to join a cricket club, and I thought: 'Well, I've already done that!'" he said.
Singh, 30, came to Ireland from Mohali in 2006 on the recommendation of a friend, who told him that the top Irish clubs offered semi-professional contracts to its most talented cricketers.
"I was a teenager who came over as a student, so no-one over here knew who I was, but I knew that if I got into a club side I was good enough to win a contract," he continued.
"I was studying hotel management at the American College in Dublin, but I wasn't really concentrating on that. Cricket was my main focus."
He played two years at Malahide, before being offered a contract by Old Belvedere in 2008, then moved to YMCA in Sandymount in 2012.
But those first couple of years were tough, as he combined his studies with cricket, part-time work and phone calls to his worried parents back home in Mohali.
"I was working in Woodies, the hardware store, in Swords. That was my first ever job, so it was tough combining shift work, college, learning to cook for yourself, and playing cricket at weekends," he said.
"But it made me a more independent person, earning my own money at that young age gave me a lot of confidence."
Singh's parents back home have been bombarded with calls from the India media following their son's call-up to the full Ireland squad, and are enjoying the limelight, but they did not initially welcome their only child's decision as a teenager to emigrate halfway round the world.
"It has been a long journey for both me and for them. I started playing cricket at the age of 10, and so it has been 20 years now of hard work," he continued.
"They were worried when I came over. I don't have any brothers or sisters, I am their only child, so they were apprehensive.
"But after a few months, they realised that I was fine here. I had friends here, and I was in touch with them every second day, so they knew I was in good hands and they relaxed a bit."
Singh's ODI debut in Ireland's 51-run defeat to New Zealand at Malahide on Sunday was also his first appearance in front of the television cameras, and his parents were able to watch the game on the internet.
"They have been enjoying the attention, all the phone calls from the media, and they watched the game online on their Ipad," he said.
"They sent me a lot of pictures, and they were very excited."
Singh says he enjoyed the experience of taking on the Black Caps, and hopes to get a second taste of the limelight when Ireland take on Bangladesh in the Walton Tri-Series on Friday, a match that will be shown live in Ireland on eirSport 1 (10.45am BST, coverage starts at 10.30am) although he could return to 12th man duty at Malahide Cricket Club if opener Ed Joyce recovers from a back injury in time.
"Playing a game in front of the television cameras, with so many people in the ground, is nervewracking, but after ten overs I relaxed,” he continued.
“I was comfortable going out to bat, I was feeling good, and I didn't think I couldn't handle it, so it was unfortunate when I got out."