By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Indian cricket is replete with examples of titans at the domestic level who didn’t get on to don the India cap — KP Bhaskar, Amol Muzumdar, Padmakar Shivalkar and Rajinder Goel being strong cases in point. Then, there is someone like a Wasim Jaffer who has been scoring tons of runs after being axed and yet continues to be ignored by the national selectors. And now there is Pankaj Singh, another tried and tested performer, who isn’t getting his due at the highest level.
The tall seamer from Rajasthan has been toiling in domestic cricket for years and yet the opportunity to play for India evades him. Here is a bowler who has taken 149 wickets in the last four seasons in Indian domestic cricket – a mark of remarkable consistency and discipline. Those performances have helped Rajasthan – once languishing in the erstwhile Plate League in the Ranji Trophy – to raise the bar and even clinch the coveted title twice. However, somewhere Pankaj has escaped the vision of the selectors; or have they turned a blind eye towards him?
The tally of 149 wickets does form a decent picture of his success, but one gets a better understanding on examination of his season wise break-up. Here is what he has done in domestic cricket since the 2009-10 season:
A true reflection of Pankaj’s hard work is the “average” column. Apart from the 2011-12 season, he has averaged below 25 in the three others. Even when he did average over 30, his performance was crucial to Rajasthan’s title triumph. The 2010-11 and the 2011-12 seasons have been highlighted as those were the years Rajasthan emerged victorious in the Ranji Trophy.
In recent times, the Indian selectors have tried out various fast bowlers at the highest level. Some of them have risen through the ranks after good performances for the India A side. Pankaj was handed a maiden call-up during India’s tour to Australia in 2007-08. On that tour, he was given two games — both practice matches — and was discarded immediately thereafter. The second call-up came when India toured Zimbabwe for a one-day series in 2010, where he got his only international cap.
The interesting thing is that despite encouraging performances at the domestic level, Pankaj hasn’t been included in the India A sides. The most stunning exclusion came after the 2010-11 season as he wasn’t considered for the Emerging Players Tournament Down Under. It was shocking to find that a bowler who picked more than 50 wickets in the season wasn’t picked.
Other fast bowlers India tried out since 2009-10
Let us compare Pankaj’s performances with the fast bowlers who have made their Test debuts for India after the 2009-10 season. The men in question are: Abhimanyu Mithun, Jaydev Unadkat, Praveen Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and R Vinay Kumar. The perfect parameter to measure would be their season wise break-up in First-Class cricket since 2009-10.
|2009-10||Did not play|
*includes Test matches
*includes a test match
R Vinay Kumar
Vinay Kumar is the only one who comes close to Pankaj’s phenomenal returns. Some of the others have done decently well and their selections have been on promise more than anything else. The most relevant example would be that of Varun Aaron. His returns in domestic cricket haven’t been great, but he was selected because of his raw pace.
Here is a combined tally of all the Indian fast bowlers who have made their international debuts since 2009-10:
|R Vinay Kumar||28||114|
*Did not play 2009-10 season
**did not play 2012-13 season
Pankaj is the clear leader in this table and the only uncapped player in the group. It is astonishing that the selectors continue to ignore him even for India A team. Bowlers with inferior records have been handed the chance to travel with the India A side and pick up valuable experience. However, Pankaj’s last stint with the A team was way back in 2007. Indian team management has often mishandled fast-bowlers and a bowler like Pankaj has been wasted without being given a fair shot.
What more can a player do but perform and hold on to every last bit of hope? Late last year, Pankaj made his feelings clear when he told ESPNcricinfo, “Why am I not presented with an opportunity? What more do I need to do to seek attention?”
The heart goes out for Pankaj Singh. Will the Dhritarashtras who matter in Indian cricket finally show the necessary vision and do Pankaj belated justice?
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)