One of the forgotten men of domestic cricket, the former Himachal Pradesh and Delhi allrounder is now pursuing a singing career in Bollywood.
Today he spends most of his time in Mumbai, the city of dreams, pursuing a career as a playback singer in Bollywood but once upon a time Shakti Singh plied a very different trade. The former Delhi and Himachal Pradesh fast bowling-allrounder is one of countless domestic cricketers who faded away from the scene after toiling manfully for years, but attached to Shakti's name is a landmark – that of 14 sixes in an innings, an Indian first-class record.
The innings in focus came in a Ranji Trophy league match between Himachal Pradesh and Haryana in November 1990. Shakti walked in at the fall of the sixth wicket with just 87 on the board during HP's second innings – they had been made to follow-on after scoring 194 in reply to Haryana's 551 for 6 - and proceeded to hit a rollicking 128 that included seven fours and 14 sixes. Haryana wrapped up an innings victory over the fledging HP, but Shakti’s record 14 sixes etched his name in history – with Limca featuring him in their annual Book of Records. At the time, Shakti's achievement put him at second in the all-time record for sixes in a first-class innings - behind New Zealand's John Reid (15) – but he has since been surpassed by Andrew Symonds and Graham Napier with 16 apiece. But his is an Indian record.
"It was unbelievable. It took some time for the feeling to sink in. I never thought that I would be registered in the Limca Book of Records. That match changed my life. I still get goose bumps," Shakti told Cricketnext. "We were on the verge of losing the match. Our top order was totally plundered. Haryana's batting and bowling crushed us. When it came my turn to bat, I knew we would lose the match but wanted to do something for my team.
"But did I think of hitting 14 sixes? Honestly, no. My team was in trouble and I just I wanted to do something, so that people would know me. I had a full confidence on myself. I did what I promised to myself. I was very aggressive those days. Only after the match did I realized what I had done. In 1990, Haryana was quite strong whereas Himachal were beginners. The renowned faces in that match were Ajay Jadeja, Chetan Sharma and Vijay Yadav who were playing for Haryana that time," recalled the 44-year-old.
Ajay Jadeja, the former India batsman who playing for Haryana in that match, remembered Shakti's innings as an outstanding counter-attacking effort. "Himachal was a newly formed team of that era. I still remember, they were on the verge of losing that match. Shakti came in after their top order had collapsed badly and batted magnificently. He was unstoppable. I still remember his sky-rocketing sixes. Though Himachal lost that match, Shakti won our hearts. We gave him a round of applause. I think he is in Mumbai now and working in some movies. He is a good singer too. There are very few people like him," he told Cricketnext.
Looking back at his cricket career, Shakti, who played 58 first-class matches from 1997 to 2003, pinpointed his 128 against Haryana as the pivotal moment though he regretted not getting opportunities beyond the Ranji level. "Due to that I got an identity otherwise nobody knew me. Those 14 sixes changed my life. But not being selected after that achievement and ignored by selectors was a setback for me and it will always be. I gave good performances after that. As the bowling spearhead for Himachal I took three ten-wicket hauls and 16 five-wicket hauls but was repeatedly ignored by the selectors for the Duleep Tropy and Wills Trophy. After that I tried to sweat it out in the nets to impress the selectors with my performance, but nothing worked out. In 2003 I said a permanent good bye to cricket."
After leading HP's bowling attack with success (197 first-class wickets at 25.07) and later representing Delhi (39 wickets at 26.07) in the Ranji Trophy, Shakti retired from the game and went on to juggle a career as match referee and playback singer. After much struggle in Mumbai, he made his singing debut in 2006 with music directors Jatin-Lalit and has since had Bollywood stars like Govinda, Jackie Shroff and Fardeen Khan sing to his voice. Yet he works at the Mumbai airport while trying to forge his singing career. "I am a playback singer and have sung for many films such as Mera Dil Leke Dekho, Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge, Life Partner and Patiala House. During my playing days, I had come out with my first album Hai Daiya, which was a mix of Hindi and UP folk. I also served as a domestic match referee from 2007 to 2011. It's difficult to choose between cricket and music. But I enjoyed both in my life. Even in the dressing room, I used to sing for my team."
One of the highlights of his career was getting the chance to bowl to members of the Indian Test team of 1991 in Australia while training under the tutelage of Dennis Lillee. "It was a great experience. In 1991, we went to Australia for four months and during that time the India team was touring. We were asked to bowl to the Indian cricketers in the nets. I bowled regularly to Sachin Tendulkar, Sanjay Manjrekar, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Mohammad Azaharuddin. Tendulkar was very impressive. He had the answers to all our bowling tricks."
Shakti too had aspirations of playing for India but like countless before and after him, did not achieve this dream. "I remember an incident – I was playing for Delhi against Bengal in the Ranji pre-quarterfinals. I bagged six wickets and was sure of getting selected [for India] but was dropped for the next three matches. When I asked the selectors, they said that they had forgotten to add my name to the squad. I was again dropped for two matches after claiming five wickets for Delhi against Haryana in 1996. I struggled a lot."
Today, Shakti has his hopes pinned on his son Lakshya – target, in Hindi – who plays Under-14 cricket in Mumbai. “I couldn’t make it to the highest level, but I am sure he will do it. I see a good cricketer in him. Like me, he is also a bowling allrounder,” says the proud father.