'One of the biggest moments of my life'- Pankaj
"It is one of the biggest moments of my life," is how Pankaj Singh described his selection in India's Test squad for the forthcoming five-Test series in England to be played in July-August.
The selectors' call finally brought to an end a desperate six-year wait for Pankaj who had laid bare his frustrations in an interview in January with ESPNcricinfo, where he had said "abhi nahin toh kabhi nahin" (if not now then never).
"I have a dream of playing for India. I want to be in the Indian team and for that no matter how much hard work I had to do, no matter how many wickets I had to take, I just told myself I had to do it. That is how now I have got it," Pankaj told ESPNcricinfo from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, his hometown. The last time Pankaj was part of an Indian Test squad was during India's 2008 Test series in Australia. Two years later in 2010, he played in the tri-series in Zimbabwe, the last time he wore an India cap.
Pankaj, 29, had said that it was the "zid" (stubbornness) that had kept his motivation strong and helped him finish among the top wicket-takers in the Ranji Trophy for the last five years. Pankaj had also produced match-winning performances for Rajasthan during their successful seasons in 2010 and 2011, pushing him to the top of the wicket-taking charts with 196 scalps. Although Rajasthan failed to make it into the knockouts this year, Pankaj finished as the joint fifth-highest wicket-taker with 39 dismissals.
Despite Pankaj's doubts over his future, the selectors picked him to play for Rest of India against Karnataka in the Irani Cup. There, Pankaj finished as RoI's best bowler with six wickets.
"I have been doing well for the last couple of seasons. I also did very well for Rest of India," Pankaj said. "That selection showed that the selectors wanted to see me. So after a good performance, there was hope that I should be getting more chances. Now, that has come true."
At 6'4", Pankaj is the tallest fast bowler along with Ishant Sharma. Capable of swinging the ball both ways, Pankaj uses his height and a strong arm to generate lethal bounce. These are some of the skillsets Pankaj has polished over the years in domestic cricket to be recognised as one of the most dangerous fast bowlers in the country. Pankaj aims to utilise that vast experience if he gets a chance to play in England.
"I have done well in the first-class cricket in the last few years. Hopefully I can bring that same momentum to the international stage," Pankaj said. "Also, the conditions in England are friendly to a fast bowler as the ball seams as well as swings in the air."
Having waited so long to make his Test debut, Pankaj is willing to be patient. Considering the long duration of the tour and keeping in my mind the seaming conditions prevalent during the English summer, the Indian selectors have picked a seven-man pace attack.
Pankaj has never played in England but like most players, he has a dream of bowling at Lord's, though he is not rushing too far ahead.
"I have got what I wanted. Now I have a chance to prove to myself that I have the ability," he said. "I have the calibre to perform at the biggest stage. They have shown faith in me and now I want to stand up to the task."
If Pankaj does get his long cherished debut, he will achieve a rare feat by becoming the Indian bowler with most first-class wickets (300) before a Test debut.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo