Ranji Trophy 2013-14 January 2, 2014

'Abhi nahin toh kabhi nahin'

Rajasthan's fast bowler Pankaj Singh on the desperation to represent India, and the pain of being ignored by national selectors despite consistently strong performances

It has become a norm. Every season for the past five years Rajasthan fast bowler Pankaj Singh has finished among the top wicket-takers in the Ranji Trophy. He has helped Rajasthan to successive Ranji Trophy titles in 2010-11 and 2011-12, finishing as the top and third-highest wicket-taker respectively in those years. This year, his 39 wickets puts him only behind Himachal Pradesh's Rishi Dhawan in the wicket-takers' list.

Despite the consistency Pankaj has failed to feature in any India or A side for more than three and a half years. Every year he finishes the season with one question: what more I should do. On Wednesday, after stumps, he rushed to the box where national selector Roger Binny had been sitting, to try and find the answer. Pankaj failed to meet Binny, but in the following interview he lays bare the pain of a domestic performer who is desperate for some answers.

On Wednesday, immediately after the day's play, you walked into the box where Roger Binny, the national selector, was watching the match from. Why did you do that and, though Binny had already left, was it the first time you had done something like that?

It was the first time I had wanted to go and talk directly to a selector. I knew this was Rajasthan's last match of our Ranji season, and so I knew we would not be able to meet anywhere else. I wanted to know what are the things I should do (to get picked for the national squad), what is going wrong with me. That was because I wanted to get an answer as to what else I could do to get there because I want to be there (in the Indian team).

How tough is it to keep performing and yet not get to know what exactly the selectors are thinking?

Ultimately I want to play for the country, a dream, a goal virtually every domestic player aspires to at some point. Now steadily as my age is increasing, I have started to doubt whether I would be able to reach that dream. Also the criteria which are needed to make the India team, which I have been achieving in domestic cricket in the last four years, and still if the selection is not happening then I would obviously like to know what more I should do.

The other option is to keep silent and continue playing which I have been doing. But my intention was to understand exactly why I am being sidelined or if they have given up on me. Then if that is the case I do not need to fight within myself or with people/things, then I can just calm down and plan my future. And if the selectors say that we have seen enough of you and we are not going to select you then I don't need to put myself under pressure each time hoping my name would be included every time a selection meeting happens.

I know that every year I cannot perform the way I have in the last four years. I am going to turn 29 so the age is going to soon turn against me. I know I can still play for four to five more years. And if I am just left to play domestic cricket, then my goals would not be that strong. And without goals I would not be able to put in this kind of effort, hard work and perform.

But in 2010-11, when Rajasthan won their first Ranji Trophy I was 26. I had taken 53 wickets that first-class season. I had many expectations considering India were going to tour many places like West Indies and England. So many other fast bowlers were picked and replaced others who were injured or unfit. But I never was included. So now I have reached a stage where I have started to think: abhi nahin toh kabhi nahin (if not now then maybe never). If it is khatam (end) then maybe I could even leave playing cricket possibly in two years. So these were the questions I wanted to ask.

Was it a mix of fear and anger that drove you to take that call to meet the selector?

Possibly. The Indian selection system has predominantly never given chances to a bowler over 30. Since four years I have waited ab mera number aayega, ab mera number aayega. Nahin aa rahan hein (My chance would come. It has not come). So even if I speak to someone it might not come and the selector might even get angry, or someone might inform me the areas I am falling short of. At least this way I could improve or at least I would tell myself that I did my best and only then I left.

Were you optimistic about a call-up for the New Zealand tour?

Definitely. Not just this time, but last year when we were playing in Kolkata against Bengal in our Ranji season opener, I picked nine wickets. A national selector, who was present, walked upto me and said I had bowled really well. I was expecting a call-up for the home Test series against England but I did not get included. Till now I have no idea where I fell short. Even the selector appreciated my performance. Then in Mohali, against Punjab, the same selector said I was doing well. Even this season I started slow but started to get wickets steadily. At the start of this season I did not believe my name would be discussed. I knew I was not being counted in the top 10 fast bowlers in the country considering I had not been called for any A tour or Emerging Trophy series or even a national camp for fast bowlers.

But the selector might have just said that to encourage you?

I know that is not bad. But if a selector is encouraging me, I am doing well, and I am (still) nowhere. These are the people who are going to pick you in the team, make your career. Even this season, in Chennai against Tamil Nadu I took a five-for, all top-order wickets. Sandeep Patil (national selection panel chairman) while taking a walk said, "very well bowled. Good bowling." I did not say anything. As a player I can only perform and that I am doing from the last four years.

"Why would I like to continue to play if I am not going to play for India. I am not going to play just for money. I have earned enough and invested in the right places. Every player has a reason to continue playing"

Say if a selector calls up and informs you that you are not part of our plans. What will you do?

I will play maximum of one or two years then. Simple. Why would I like to continue to play if I am not going to play for India. I am not going to play just for money. I have earned enough and invested in the right places. Every player has a reason to continue playing. A good player does not hang in just to earn money. The main thing is dedication towards the job. Say if I had been picked and not performed then I would be angry to prove myself and play for another four or five years.

Can you talk about the challenges a player like you goes through when not part from the Indian set-up?

The biggest challenge is you are unable to decide what you should. You doubt whether your state association is weaker and not promoting you. Then sometimes you doubt if selectors are backing a player(s) from a particular zone. No player wants to think such questions. When you are performing you do not want to raise such doubts in your head. But if the same questions keep repeating in my mind then I am bound to doubt the system.

So how do you motivate yourself?

It because of the meeting my dream, the zid (stubbornness). Having come from a small place, Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, to this place where I am now, I do not want to give up.

What are the things you have worked on in the interim?

Many times I heard I was not quick, so I worked on my pace. But importantly started first by working on my fitness and strengthening to make sure I was bowling at lively pace. In the last two years even I felt I was bowling quick - consistently 135kph. Barring Umesh Yadav, show me one fast bowler in India who has bowled consistently over 140kph. I have tried to tick every checkbox a selector thinks with regard to a fast bowler.

There is a feeling that your age was a factor, as you could not be picked for an A team where opportunities need to be given to youth primarily. But is it not unfair on you considering you are almost the same age as some players who have been on A tours in recent years?

Yes. But right from when I was 26, I have never been considered or included. There are other players like Vinay Kumar and RP Singh, Dhawal Kulkarni who are around my age and still have played or been included in the squad. I am not nitpicking. Some of these guys have played more cricket than me, but my numbers show I am doing much better than many other fast bowlers.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Naresh28 on January 6, 2014, 12:53 GMT

    WELL AT LEAST THE PICTURE says it all. Here is an Indian pace bowler with a strong, fit looking body. in test cricket we need bowlers who can bowl many overs and at least Pankaj and the new bowler Pandey have the build. We need to not discard Umesh Yadav and rather have a coach should work on him.

  • JyothiRaj on January 6, 2014, 9:58 GMT

    All you have to do is look at the weakness of Indian bowlers,,none of them are good when compare to foreign bowlers.Indian bowlers are not threatening while bowling a bouncer or yorker.Death bowling in ODIs are so cheap.So please work on this and become a threatening bowler like Malinga who can crush the toe with his yorkers.Have great control on your line and length,master reverse swing and late s wing

  • Temuzin on January 6, 2014, 4:12 GMT

    My advice to Pankaj is not to lose heart. Change your Ranji team and make a list of good batsmen (those playing for India) and try to bounce them out. Forget taking wickets, your only aim should be to hurt them on the field. Remember Thommo of Australia, who once said I want to see blood on the cricket pitch. Therefore, You should practice to bolw steep bouncers and good yorkers and terrorize them break a few bones on the field and you will be selected. Go get them son and you will be selected.

  • dummy4fb on January 5, 2014, 18:16 GMT

    Pankaj you are really good, no doubt, I used to watch and monitor the ranji sessions, especially for you in the wicket takers list and you never failed me, as your name always appear in the list but not in the playing 11 for India. Pankaj remember one thing we are in India you will not get a chance by just putting an effort alone, we always stick to some hell bowlers like Ishant, Vinay, mohit, umesh etc.., I still strongly believe you will not go worse than these bowlers. if we have Rishi Dhawan, Pankaj Singh, Ishwar Pandey, Jaddu and Ashwin bowling in NewZealand it will be dare good to watch. But nothing like this will happen in reality so sad Indiia, all our best wishes are there with you pankaj always.

  • dummy4fb on January 5, 2014, 16:44 GMT

    They ignored Ranadeb Bose at his peak, now they keep,ignoring Pankaj Singh. Got to feel for these stalwarts of Indian Cricket. Thank u Cricinfo for recognising players of Pankaj's ilk.

  • Hindhustani on January 5, 2014, 3:43 GMT

    Since Srinivasan is against Rajasthan Cricket Association, No state player will be selected to national team. Hence Pankaj singh should opt to move to other ranji state team like UP to get picked in national team.Otherwise he will waste his talent and time. He should act fast, since he is aging.This is not correct , but unfortunately this is the only option he got. I hope some one conveys this message to him.Change state team.

  • Emancipator007 on January 5, 2014, 2:58 GMT

    This is the kind of desperation that Abhijeet Kale (he was considered Big 3 of Bombay batting along with SRT/Kambli in late'80s & reputedly had best defensive batting technique) felt which made him go astray. Others include Amol Mujumder, Shivalkar, Bhaskar Pillai,Hans,Sugwekar etc. And especially so when India plays so many internationals now (including T20s) unlike past when many international fixtures were not available to blood superb domestic performers. U can bet/sense that if he is selected, Pankaj will channelize that angst to crank up his pace/ability with sheer willpower (like Imran/Akthar used to do) & help India win ODIs at least. Wud suggest Rajasthan cricket to sponsor his training under same trainer which Zak utilized in France. That will make his body fitter, stronger & generate more pace in air/off wicket to go with his already natural lift/bounce. SELECT HIM & channelize his anger.Selectors shud be psychologists too.

  • dummy4fb on January 4, 2014, 22:22 GMT

    It is unfortunate that Pankaj Singh was not selected. He was in Australia but then was not considered after that. Why?. If we take a look at Praveen Kumar, RIP Singh (May he rest in peace), Vinay Kumar, Joginder Sharma, Bhuv Kumar, the latest one, had problems with pace. If you have to be a opening bowler, you have to be a superman. You need be well built, strong, athletic and fit. In addition to that you pace and accuracy as well. The latest toll on Yadav is he is not accurate. Given that consideration Pankaj Singh has everything but lacked a bit of pace and accuracy. He was a 7 footer but pace, accuracy, swing and seam was lacking, but so did the others in some way. So he was unfortunate compared to some of them who got selected. The complete fast bowler is rare since India is number one in ODIs. Varun Aaron could be the only one who could be the next superman we are looking for.

  • Temuzin on January 4, 2014, 19:39 GMT

    @ Lija Binu, Loved your comment. I think he just needs to change his name to Pankaj Sharma to get selected. Rohit and Ishant Sharmas have gotten more chances than everybody else combined.

  • Al_Bundy1 on January 4, 2014, 15:37 GMT

    Sorry Pankaj - You are not the son of a national selector, neither do you play for "lucky" teams like CSK, Mumbai, Delhi or Saurashtra. All you can do is keep trying. We know you are better than the likes of Stuart Binny, Ishant Sharma, Mohit Sharma, Unadkat, Vinay Kumar, etc., but we don't have any say in the selection process.

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