ONE IS a teacher in the UK, the other a cab driver in Australia. Both are immigrants from Punjab with a dream that is now becoming real. Their sons are taking the first big step in cricket at the U-19 World Cup starting in the West Indies this week.
Gurj Singh Landa’s son Fateh Singh is an all-rounder for, and Baljit Singh’s son Harkirat Bajwa is a “mystery spinner” for Australia. And the team lists that feature their names is the answer to every challenge that Fateh and Harkirat had to surmount on this journey so far.
Fateh’s grandfather moved to Patiala from Lahore during Partition, leaving “everything” behind, and his family shifted to the UK in 1965. Seven years ago, the 17-year-old developed Alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that led to complete hair loss. A few months later, he saw his mother Jaswinder Kaur being shifted to a nursing home.
“Fateh has experienced a lot of difficulties over the last couple of years,” Gurj Singh toldover phone from Nottinghamshire.
“His mum has become disabled because of complications with her diabetes and lives in a nursing home. He has Alopecia. And all that has happened over the past few years. It’s very difficult for him… Cricket has helped him gain a lot of confidence. He’s a very talented cricketer and I’m very proud of him,” Gurj, a high school teacher, said.
Harkirat was seven when his family moved to Melbourne from Mohali. “Both my brothers live in Australia. Since we are a joint family, we decided to move, too,” Harkirat’s father Baljit told The Indian Express over phone from Melbourne. “I would not say it was a smooth transition for Harkirat as he took some time to settle down.”
Apart from their roots, the other similarity between Fateh and Harkirat is their admiration for Indian spinners R Ashwin and.
Fateh, who bowls left-arm spin, idolises Jadeja. Harkirat, a right-arm offspinner, is an Ashwin fan. In 2017, Fateh won a Champions Trophy prize draw ticket for the India-Pakistan game and, along with his father, got the chance to see his hero in person for the first time.
“I would say he has developed his game on Ravindra Jadeja. He is a very economical bowler, hardly gives anything away. A solid power-hitter and a gun fielder. In the England cricket circuit, they call him England’s Jadeja because of all these attributes,” said Gurj.
While Harkirat’s friends call him ‘Melbourne’s Turbanator,’ the 17-year-old is fascinated by Ashwin. “Look, any Sikh boy bowling spin will be compared to. In Australia, Harbhajan has a great fan following. But Harkirat likes Ashwin a lot. Watching Ashwin’s videos is his favourite pastime,” said Baljit.
By their own admission, Baljit and Gurj never thought that their sons would get selected for their countries so soon.
“His career graph has surprised me. He has even signed a professional contract with Nottinghamshire,” said Gurj. Fateh featured regularly for the Nottinghamshire Second XI in 2021 and made his first-team debut in the Royal London Cup 50-over competition, making three List A appearances for his club. He was also named Academy Player of the year in 2021 for taking 32 wickets from 13 matches for the U-18s and averaging 25.89 with the bat.
Harkirat, Australia’s youngest player in the U-19 World Cup, has also had a rapid rise.
“He debuted in the top grade this season only. He claimed 14 wickets from six matches at an average of 13.93, and immediately caught the selectors’ attention,” said Baljit.
“During the Women’s T20 World Cup, Harkirat was a net bowler. His prowess impressed then India coach W V Raman (former India opener and ex-India women’s team head coach),” Baljit said, adding that he will never forget Raman’s prediction about his son. “Raman sir told me that your son will get the Baggy Green by 2023. I was shocked, but how can one argue with someone with such a fine cricketing brain.”
According to the team lists, there are several others with a Punjab connection at the World Cup. They include Canada’s Anoop Chima, Gurnek Johal Singh, Harjap Saini, Parmveer Kharoud and Ramanvir Dhaliwal; UAE’s Shival Bawa; and of course, India’s own Harnoor Singh Pannu from Jalandhar and Raj Angad Bawa from Chandigarh. In all, they virtually make a global Punjab XI.