England v India, 3rd Investec Test, Ageas Bowl, 2nd day

Pankaj singed by tough debut

After striving so long to play Test cricket, Pankaj Singh's luck deserted him and then his discipline too

Nagraj Gollapudi at the Ageas Bowl

July 28, 2014

Comments: 47 | Text size: A | A
Play
Highlights: Pankaj Singh's frustration grew after a serious of close shaves went against him on Test debut

Pankaj Singh's wicket column was empty. Two days at the new job. No returns. Many times he stood in the field, hands on hips with a helpless expression. He would walk back to his bowling mark shaking his head when luck did not smile on him. You could understand his frustration.

It was a tough initiation for the man who had cried his heart out at the turn of the New Year, asking the selectors to give him one chance at playing Test cricket. On Sunday the dream became reality when Pankaj was handed his Test cap by former India captain Sourav Ganguly.

On Monday, Pankaj sprinted in from backward short leg full of energy and renewed hopes. He settled in quickly, with his fourth delivery whistling past the outside edge off Ian Bell's hanging bat. The next ball, Bell once again was lured into playing and missing as once again the ball seamed away, missed the edge and MS Dhoni caught the ball at waist height.

Bell should not even have been there, if you asked Pankaj. In the first over after the second new ball was taken late on Sunday afternoon, Pankaj, bowling from Northern End, had managed to bend a delivery which seemed to be going down leg but swerved into Bell's pads at the very last moment. Not only did it catch Bell by surprise but even the umpire, Rod Tucker, was caught off guard. Pankaj shrieked out a prolonged appeal, nearly squatting, but Tucker remained unimpressed.

Pankaj Singh's bowling breakdown

  • Figures on first day: 20-3-62-0
  • Second day: 17-5-84-0
  • Last seven overs: 7-0-46-0
  • Fruitless toil: Pankaj's figures of 0 for 146 were the second worst by a wicketless bowler on debut, after Bryce McGain (0 for 149 against South Africa, 2009)

While picking up his hat Pankaj checked with Tucker, who might have noted the ball would have gone down the leg side at first sight. According to Hawk-Eye, the ball would have gone on to hit the top of the middle stump. Pankaj had bowled with decent control and intensity on his first day of work, proving he was a capable replacement for the injured Ishant Sharma. He would have had the wicket of Alastair Cook, too, had Ravindra Jadeja not dropped the chance.

First ball of Pankaj's second over today, Bell was forced to play at an outswinger, but the resultant edge zipped past the empty fourth slip pocket. Pankaj grimaced. It was a similar expression he had displayed at the end of the hard day's work at stumps on Sunday. After he had delivered the final ball of the day, Pankaj bent over with his hands on his knees out in the middle of his pitch with an exhausted and helpless look.

You could not help but feel for Pankaj. He had strived hard to reach the international stage. His journey started in a village in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh before he moved down south where he worked part-time at a sweet shop in Bangalore while pursuing dreams of playing top-level cricket. He moved to the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai before heading to play domestic cricket for the west state of Rajasthan, where he has grown into their best bowler, leader and mentor to youngsters.

Pankaj was the central architect of Rajasthan winning the Ranji Trophy title in successive years in 2011 and 2012 seasons. He has been the most consistent, high-performing fast bowler in the last five years in Indian first-class cricket.

Yet Pankaj continued to be ignored by the selectors, who did not even deem him fit to play on India A tours. No selector ever told him what they expected of him or what they needed him to work on. Each time a team was announced, Pankaj would just swallow the pain and get on with the job. With such a compelling back-story, Pankaj, at 29 years old, was bound to be emotional on his debut.

It is also easy to understand his eagerness to make an impact. It is like being in the first week of job. It is natural you want to impress - more yourself than others. You want to feel that you have earned your job.

Credit to him, on the first day Pankaj did not show nerves. He bowled tidily and mostly followed his captain MS Dhoni's instructions. After every over Dhoni would share insights and tips with the debutant. It was important to tell the bowler he had his captain's confidence. Giving Pankaj the second new ball was a cue.

 
 
A decent percentage of Pankaj's 258 first-class wickets for Rajasthan was of batsmen who can easily get distracted. International batsmen are a different breed. Pankaj would have learned that lesson by now
 

Yet Pankaj was a lost soul on Monday, especially after lunch. It did not help his cause that Dhoni never allowed his bowlers to settle into a rhythm, as Pankaj bowled six one-over spells in the second session. Pankaj, broad-shouldered, 6ft 4in tall, uses a lot of his body in his action. He relies on rhythm to plot his wickets. So Dhoni's out-of-the-box method did not especially aid Pankaj.

However, it was not Dhoni's fault that Pankaj strayed in his lines and lengths. Too many times today he lost control by either spraying it short and wide or down the leg side, offering easy shots for Bell and Gary Balance in the morning and later Bell and Jos Butler in the afternoon.

For Rajasthan, a decent percentage of Pankaj's 258 first-class wickets was of batsmen who can easily get distracted. International batsmen are a different breed. Pankaj would have learned that lesson by now. His duel with Bell was a fascinating example. Bell had played and missed frequently but any room he got from Pankaj he punished the bowler: like the solid, back-foot square drive in the morning, standing high on his toes, that raced to the boundary and pushed Pankaj back into his corner.

Pankaj was desperate. But he needs to understand being successful is not only about taking wickets. It is also about working for your bowling partners. Whenever he was thrown the ball, he needed to be disciplined, especially on a placid and slow pitch, to not lose the momentum which would only put pressure on the rest of the bowling. It was important to stick to the off-stump line and bowl the channels - a simple, monotonous chore, yet one that has proved effective for every successful fast bowler. What stands in Pankaj's favour is he has employed that same method on unresponsive, flat pitches in India for the last decade.

It is easy to get frustrated. It is easy to feel you are on your own when you finish as the second most-expensive bowler without a wicket in your first outing. But Pankaj is not alone there. Michael Holding recollected his debut Test in Brisbane in 1975 tour of Australia where he finished wicketless.

That is the truth in Test cricket: it can be a lonely place when things are not going your way. As a debutant you want to feel belonged on your first days at work. But you need to clock a lot of mileage before you get to that spot.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

RSS Feeds: Nagraj Gollapudi

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Vel2win on (July 31, 2014, 5:35 GMT)

Here I believe Pankaj bowled well and only becoz of poor slip fielder placement this lad is unlucky to grab the much deserved wickets.. but all in game of cricket. I hope Indian tema management will understand the the way he bowled in this match rather than thinking he is wicket less. Hope to see him in rest 2 tests... All the best Pankaj!!!!

Posted by dilipshinde on (July 30, 2014, 8:33 GMT)

Bad slip fielding, poor umpiring and lack of DSR ruined Pankaj's debut. Why cant Indian slip fielders stand a few feet nearer to the batsman? What is the fielding coach doing? I do not remember a high slip catch missed because the fielder is too far nearer to the batsman. Despie not taking wickets, I would choose him ahead of Ishant who got wickets in the last match due to batsmans error. If only Pankaj can reduce the number of balls he bowls on the legs or outside.

Posted by dilipshinde on (July 30, 2014, 8:30 GMT)

Bad slip fielding, poor umpiring and lack of DSR ruined Pankaj's debut. Why cant Indian slip fielders stand a few feet nearer to the batsman? What is the fielding coach doing? I do not remember a high slip catch missed because the fielder is too far nearer to the batsman. Despie not taking wickets, I would choose him ahead of Ishant who got wickets in the last match due to batsmans error. If only Pankaj can reduce the number of balls he bowls on the legs or outside.

Posted by balaji28 on (July 30, 2014, 5:46 GMT)

According to me pankaj bowled better than bhuvi and shami.I think pankaj is better than ishant and even ishant would have faltered in this wicket.So my sincere request to dhoni is please select pankaj in rest of the series too to prove his worth.

Posted by mysecretme on (July 30, 2014, 4:30 GMT)

Pankaj bowled well, but he needs to quickly address the issue of him getting disheartened with umpire decisions and drops. He is a debutant. He cannot afford to get into funk. He is experienced enough at Ranji level to know that these things happen. Better get back into the right frame of mind and enjoy the game while giving it his all. If he shows poor attitude, there is a chance that Dhoni will drop him forever.

Posted by Mr_Anonymous on (July 29, 2014, 22:53 GMT)

I think Pankaj should not worry too much about not getting wickets. He has gotten to play in a Test Match after waiting for a long time. This is something he really wanted and most people would have felt that his chances were slim of making it when the following was written not too long ago. http://www.espncricinfo.com/india/content/story/706465.html

However, he has made it with this far and now it is time to just take the opportunity and show the learning that he has obtained from India's first-class cricket. Pankaj was considered by most people to be a very hard-working and disciplined bowler and something happened where he lost that. I don't think people doubt his stamina or his ability. He just needs to enjoy himself if he gets a chance in the second innings and not worry about the wickets. If he bowls according to his ability and stays disciplined, he can be satisfied with that even if he does not end up with any wickets although hopefully the wickets will come.

Posted by harekare on (July 29, 2014, 13:53 GMT)

He was just unlucky. Very unlucky. But one thing for sure, Shami is the worst bowler for some time and Dhwan is thewsorst batsman sofar. These two should be axed for good .

Posted by cricisme on (July 29, 2014, 11:03 GMT)

He is a great bowler.. He is so new to International cricket, one cannot judge him from his first match. To be fair he could have dismissed two high scoring batsmen had the umpire given the right lbw decision for Bell and Jadeja had not dropped Cook in the slip.

Posted by PutMarshyOn on (July 29, 2014, 8:55 GMT)

He bowled far better than people will guess when they look at the Wisden page in years to come. Sure he got tired and couldn't settle in Dhoni's bowler-go-round but for all that he should have had wickets. Reminds me a bit of Stuart Clark. Could have 2-3 really good years in him at test level.

Posted by   on (July 29, 2014, 8:51 GMT)

Can u link Holding's recollection, would be a interesting read.

Comments have now been closed for this article

TopTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print
Nagraj GollapudiClose
Tour Results
England v India at Birmingham - Sep 7, 2014
England won by 3 runs
England v India at Leeds - Sep 5, 2014
England won by 41 runs
England v India at Birmingham - Sep 2, 2014
India won by 9 wickets (with 117 balls remaining)
England v India at Nottingham - Aug 30, 2014
India won by 6 wickets (with 42 balls remaining)
England v India at Cardiff - Aug 27, 2014
India won by 133 runs (D/L method)
More results »
News | Features Last 3 days
News | Features Last 3 days