It ain't cricket, but these two took to baseball
CAN good cricket bowlers make great baseball pitchers?
That is the question behind the new film, Million Dollar Arm, a true story about a Major League Baseball (MLB) agent who goes to India to find the next big thing.
Out in North American theatres today, it tells the astonishing tale of Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, discovered in India by MLB agent JB Bernstein and hired a few months later as professionals for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Actor Jon Hamm, famous for his role as Don Draper in the hit TV show Mad Men and who plays JB, said he had to pinch himself when he first read the screenplay.
"I read the script and... loved it, and then looked back to the title page and went like, 'Wait a minute... this is true?' I am a huge baseball fan and somehow this flew under my radar and I didn't know."
It was by watching a cricket match on TV that Mr Bernstein - whose career had been stumped when a deal fell through - noticed that bowlers in the wildly popular sport in India are vaguely similar to baseball pitchers.
He decided to organise a nationally televised competition in India, called Million Dollar Arm, to find the first ones there who could pitch a ball at over 130kmh.
Singh (played by Suraj Sharma) was the winner of the 2008 contest - with a prize of US$100,000 and a trip to America - while Patel (played by Madhur Mittal) also came along as runner-up.
The only problem: the two 25-year-olds had never played baseball in their lives.
Intensive training initially didn't help - speed is not the only attribute required by a baseball pitcher - but, just in time, they came through.
"Life has changed a lot for me and my family. But I'm exactly the same person, I carry the same heart as when I first came to America," Singh said.
"But it wasn't easy. Every step had a doubt. I'm pretty sure JB had that too, we were afraid of failing."
Patel was later released by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but Singh is still there. It is not clear whether Patel has returned to India.
Mr Bernstein, now 46 and the head of an athlete management company, was the first MLB agent to search for talent in India.
"As an agent, I knew that no one was going to India and realising, from a probability standpoint, that there was likely to be thousands of guys there," he said.
In India, there are about 200 million young men in the appropriate age group.
"A lot grow up doing something athletic. Most guys grow up playing cricket, and in that talent pool, there is no pro sport other than cricket. All these natural athletes are out there," Mr Bernstein said.
"India is unique in that respect," he said, adding that looking for baseball players there was "like a lottery where I'm the only one buying the ticket".