England v India, 4th Investec Test, Old Trafford, 3rd day August 9, 2014

Pankaj Singh, Test wicket-taker

After 26 spells, 69 overs, and 415 deliveries, Pankaj Singh took the wicket that was cheered by cricket fans regardless of their affiliation
26

Play 04:30
Dravid: Pankaj not consistent in this Test

In Southampton, Pankaj Singh walked off the ground after England's second innings completely alone. Not one team-mate waited for him to walk off. He had to make a 100-metre walk alone. If you watched him on the entire walk, you could hear the "sad Hulk" theme.

****

There is a red thread around Pankaj's right wrist when he bowls. Despite Sunday being the Hindu festival Raksha Bandhan, this is not a Rakhi. It is not a sign of a bond between him and his sister. The Rakhi is a knot of protection. Whatever Pankaj's wrist thread signifies, it's not protection. And it's certainly not for luck either.

There was a smile for Pankaj on day two at Old Trafford. It came, unsurprisingly, when he had no luck. Instead of getting angry or disappointed, he smiled.

A newspaper recently wrote in its death notices that "Deaths are coming". The remnants of a tropical storm are about to flood England. Meanwhile, the Daily Express, is concerned about lunar activity: "The SUPERMOON will light up the sky in a beautiful spectacle on Sunday but may also act as a catalyst to Earth's terrifying and dramatic conclusion."

We could all be dead by the time Monday roles around. Pankaj Singh started Friday with the thought that he could end it as the single worst bowler in Test match history. And he smiled. He started Saturday with that in mind, and the potential for our global annihilation, and he smiled again. He smiled after another luckless over as he stood out on the ugly mush by the fine leg boundary. He stood on the semi-dried sludge, knowing that he might never ever take a Test wicket. And he smiled.

How can you not like Pankaj?

I know his gait, I know that it changes in different situations. I know the lean in when the ball is about to be bowled. I can see how he has a different step when walking around the field to when he's coming in to bowl. I know all this because I have become obsessed with Pankaj. In between overs I stare at him through my binoculars. I watch his spells live, and then every single ball again on replay. I then Hawk-Eye the overs later.

I noticed his new thumb guard, needed after one of his all-too-common fumbles. Noticed that when he fields, on the very odd occasion, in a catching position, he does it with all the grace of a plumber performing a plié. I see when he finds himself at mid-off with no cover fielder, he asks a more agile fielder to swap with him. And I am watching close enough to notice that while in general he sort of flicks his feet out for each step, when it's bowling time, he has more purpose, more strength in each step. Pankaj likes bowling time.

No matter how poor he bowled, how poor his luck was, how much the batsmen are taking him on, you can see it. He's a born bowler. Nothing says that more than his batting.

Pankaj turns instantly to the umpire. He has appealed to these two umpires, Marais Erasmus and Rod Tucker, many times. They have never given him anything but this time he appeals like he's finally got a chance

It's hard to not be romantic about him. Every single time he fronted up to the crease he seemed to be looking more and more likely to end up as the single worst bowler in the history of cricket, statistically speaking. Despite bowling well at times, really well even, he was somehow going further and further into Test-match bowling without taking a wicket. Ian Botham did some analysis on Sky that said he could have taken ten wickets so far. The press box was cheering him on. Twitter was tear-stained after every play and miss. His pain was seemingly everyone's. We all just wanted him to have one wicket. Save the embarrassment, give him something. Forget the luck, just one. Please.

It's not often a player gets picked for romantics or even on popular opinion. Behind the lovable-lug nature, the cold analysis is not as heart-warming for Pankaj. He's not a perfect bowler. The outswing, offcut and bounce are all good. But his biggest problem is his lack of consistency ball after ball, over after over, day after day. On Saturday morning, he bowled two overs with the old ball. Twice he went past Jos Buttler's edge with top class international deliveries. But then with the new ball, he was ordinary.

He struggled for a decent line, often just spraying wide and harmless. His length was poor as well. He didn't correct it. And, not for the first time, MS Dhoni had to drag him off and overbowl Bhuvneshwar Kumar. His front arm is not strong, which could be the reason he sometimes doesn't get it right. But the problem he really has is that at his pace, to succeed at this level, Test after Test, against big bats, flat pitches and an ever-encroaching boundary triangle, you need to be able to put 23 out of 24 balls in a place that is restricting the batsman. Pankaj doesn't, yet. He's a bowler who bowls you the odd ball that is too good, and occasionally gifts the batsman free runs. That's not unlucky, that's untidy.

Whatever the outcome of the ball, Pankaj reacts much the same. A look at where the ball has gone, the odd nostril flare or sideways glance at the batsman, and then head down and back to his mark. He doesn't seek out any chat, or respond much to it. Once, Rod Tucker tried to suggest his feet were finding the pitch's danger zone, but even then Pankaj didn't really stop or listen, he just went back to his mark, and waited for the ball. Pankaj is almost always ready before his team-mates, waiting for the ball, yanking up his left shirt sleeve and waiting for one more chance.

It's probably no different to what he has done more than 16,000 times in first-class cricket. It's probably no different to how he has played for any of the 2424 days since he first played a tour game for India. Same again. One more spell. He had bowled 26 spells in Test cricket. One more over. He had bowled 69 overs. One more ball. He had bowled 415 balls. One more. One more.

On the 16,162nd ball of his first-class career, Pankaj comes in again. His action is slightly more hurried, he is searching for pace. But the ball isn't quick, and it's down the legside. It's not a good ball. It's not the ball that has got Pankaj selected. It's not a swinger or a cutter. It's a ball that Joe Root should score four from. Instead it bounces a little and brushes some glove. Dhoni takes it in front of his eyes.

Pankaj turns instantly to the umpire. He has appealed to these two umpires, Marais Erasmus and Rod Tucker, many times. They've never given him anything. But this time he doesn't plead with both hands and the face of pure desperation, this time he appeals like he's finally got a chance. Like he doesn't have to prove himself, that his desperation is simply not needed. Erasmus sticks his finger up straight away. Pankaj looks to the sky. Deaths are not coming. There is no hurricane. The supermoon can't defeat him.

This time the luck is his. Pankaj Singh has a lucky wicket. Pankaj Singh has a Test wicket. He is Pankaj Singh, Test wicket-taker.

The commentators cheer, the press box cheers, the Indian fans scream and even the English fans cheer. It's rare that one wicket can give so much cheer to so many different cricket fans. I put my binoculars up to my eye. I tell myself it's to see him close up. But I know it's really to stop people seeing my tears. This is the happiest I've ever been for a crap leg-side dismissal. It's probably close to as happy as I can be for someone I don't actually know.

Those who do know him flock to him, his team-mates crowd around him. He tries to smile, but he's too embarrassed to do it properly. They all look happier than he does. He's taking big breaths and is clearly not comfortable with the attention for what was one of the worst wickets of his career. They love it. The team stay in a circle, smiling, laughing, joking, happy for their team-mate. Pankaj walks off back to his mark.

Pankaj is a bowler. He doesn't need the adulation of a lucky wicket. He needs to bowl his next ball.

****

At the end of the innings, Pankaj has to make the long walk across the field. It's every bit as far as his walk in Southampton. Yet again he walks all the way across the ground alone. This time his team-mates wait for him.

Jarrod Kimber was 50% of the Two Chucks, and is the mind responsible for cricketwithballs.com

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • VipinGangwar on August 11, 2014, 11:04 GMT

    Jarrod, Don't you have any words for Chris Jordan? Take a look into his stats and you would found a lot of similarity.

  • on August 11, 2014, 1:07 GMT

    @Ameya: I agree. He is built like an ox, but yet bowls in the low 130kmph range, bowls at least 2 pressure releasing 4 balls in an over. There is a reason why the selectors did not give him a chance till now. But then, he has an axe to grind too.. if the selectors can give so many chances to Ishant, why not Pankaj?

  • ac_Indian on August 10, 2014, 15:43 GMT

    Jarrod, your writings are very interesting and are actually borderline poetry. It is good to see that you too are among those few in the media who are able to see the virtue of not feeling the itch to "chat". And yes, this has to be called a virtue these days.

  • on August 10, 2014, 15:21 GMT

    Let's hope that he gets another chance. He has a fiver in his hands. Way to persevere Pankaj. DO IT FOR THE BOWLER IN ALL OF US. DO IT AND SMILE nEVER GIVE UP.

  • sharidas on August 10, 2014, 9:36 GMT

    Thanks Jarrod. If there is one player in the Indian team, who never seems to give up, that's Pankaj Singh. I am glad he got the wickets.

  • on August 10, 2014, 7:25 GMT

    though paeans are sung about Pankaj and how likeable and gentle and the best guy i the world that he is, fact of the matter is he looks like geriatric 45 year old trying to do a young mans job. Walsh in 2000 in England after sending down over 4500 overs in international test cricket still could tease , and make batsmen look silly, with genial smile and sinister raised eyebrow. Heck that actual 40 year old with 17 years of cricket under him looked to be in an excellect place than than Pankaj. Apart from that, Pankaj doesnt have a natural length or line which is suprising for a vastly experienced guy.

  • on August 10, 2014, 6:50 GMT

    Indian pace bowlers are selected based on their domestic performance against domestic batsmen - and they never going to succeed against international batsmen outside India...they do not have the power to hit the deck... bhuvi's performance in England - surely will mislead the selectors and he will toil in other countries ..as regards the performance of the Indians in current tour the batsmen always struggle under English conditions. it is only the bowlers can win matches for India ...unfortunately MSD lacks quality bowlers and the fielders let them down further.. ...it would be 2-1 win for England...

  • karthik_ig on August 10, 2014, 6:34 GMT

    If You have praised Bhuvi, I would have been more happier. Pankaj is a giant, he is bowling well in patches..he is good not excellent. Do we only have bowlers like this in India? We dont have fierce bowlers to chose from? Body posture Does not matter if he does not bowls aggresive.See bhuvi, he is lean and short..he dont have natural physical ability that fast bowler should have..But way he is using his cricketing brain is really good..we need fast medium bowlers with inteligent cricket brain or bowlers with raw pace and aggressive attitude. Iwe dont get either of this variety i will be difficult for us to win overseas test matches..Remeber we need to improve our batting as well in those conditions

  • on August 10, 2014, 5:56 GMT

    It seems like that we won the Lord's test just coz of destiny.....

    I am wonder, just coz of Ishant we have lost the winning momentum. The day is not far when we have to rework - ☆reseach to get new generation of bowl

    ers

  • SeanB on August 10, 2014, 2:10 GMT

    We like Pankaj. He has tried his best and given everything. Would have had more wickets with a bit of luck going his way. Really wish he took many more wickets for India. All that said, how is he different from Stuart Binny? Both bowl at the same pace, but Binny has shown better control and the ability to swing the ball. Finally, Binny can bat. At this point, India should pick Binny as a third seamer / all rounder (if they think Pankaj is good enough as a specialist bowler) and drop Jadeja.

  • VipinGangwar on August 11, 2014, 11:04 GMT

    Jarrod, Don't you have any words for Chris Jordan? Take a look into his stats and you would found a lot of similarity.

  • on August 11, 2014, 1:07 GMT

    @Ameya: I agree. He is built like an ox, but yet bowls in the low 130kmph range, bowls at least 2 pressure releasing 4 balls in an over. There is a reason why the selectors did not give him a chance till now. But then, he has an axe to grind too.. if the selectors can give so many chances to Ishant, why not Pankaj?

  • ac_Indian on August 10, 2014, 15:43 GMT

    Jarrod, your writings are very interesting and are actually borderline poetry. It is good to see that you too are among those few in the media who are able to see the virtue of not feeling the itch to "chat". And yes, this has to be called a virtue these days.

  • on August 10, 2014, 15:21 GMT

    Let's hope that he gets another chance. He has a fiver in his hands. Way to persevere Pankaj. DO IT FOR THE BOWLER IN ALL OF US. DO IT AND SMILE nEVER GIVE UP.

  • sharidas on August 10, 2014, 9:36 GMT

    Thanks Jarrod. If there is one player in the Indian team, who never seems to give up, that's Pankaj Singh. I am glad he got the wickets.

  • on August 10, 2014, 7:25 GMT

    though paeans are sung about Pankaj and how likeable and gentle and the best guy i the world that he is, fact of the matter is he looks like geriatric 45 year old trying to do a young mans job. Walsh in 2000 in England after sending down over 4500 overs in international test cricket still could tease , and make batsmen look silly, with genial smile and sinister raised eyebrow. Heck that actual 40 year old with 17 years of cricket under him looked to be in an excellect place than than Pankaj. Apart from that, Pankaj doesnt have a natural length or line which is suprising for a vastly experienced guy.

  • on August 10, 2014, 6:50 GMT

    Indian pace bowlers are selected based on their domestic performance against domestic batsmen - and they never going to succeed against international batsmen outside India...they do not have the power to hit the deck... bhuvi's performance in England - surely will mislead the selectors and he will toil in other countries ..as regards the performance of the Indians in current tour the batsmen always struggle under English conditions. it is only the bowlers can win matches for India ...unfortunately MSD lacks quality bowlers and the fielders let them down further.. ...it would be 2-1 win for England...

  • karthik_ig on August 10, 2014, 6:34 GMT

    If You have praised Bhuvi, I would have been more happier. Pankaj is a giant, he is bowling well in patches..he is good not excellent. Do we only have bowlers like this in India? We dont have fierce bowlers to chose from? Body posture Does not matter if he does not bowls aggresive.See bhuvi, he is lean and short..he dont have natural physical ability that fast bowler should have..But way he is using his cricketing brain is really good..we need fast medium bowlers with inteligent cricket brain or bowlers with raw pace and aggressive attitude. Iwe dont get either of this variety i will be difficult for us to win overseas test matches..Remeber we need to improve our batting as well in those conditions

  • on August 10, 2014, 5:56 GMT

    It seems like that we won the Lord's test just coz of destiny.....

    I am wonder, just coz of Ishant we have lost the winning momentum. The day is not far when we have to rework - ☆reseach to get new generation of bowl

    ers

  • SeanB on August 10, 2014, 2:10 GMT

    We like Pankaj. He has tried his best and given everything. Would have had more wickets with a bit of luck going his way. Really wish he took many more wickets for India. All that said, how is he different from Stuart Binny? Both bowl at the same pace, but Binny has shown better control and the ability to swing the ball. Finally, Binny can bat. At this point, India should pick Binny as a third seamer / all rounder (if they think Pankaj is good enough as a specialist bowler) and drop Jadeja.

  • cornered_again on August 10, 2014, 2:08 GMT

    I can't believe that whole articles are being written in every match about Pankaj Singh, although he has yet to shine. He is not even some 17 year old child prodigy that he has to be pampered that much. I know he has bowled well but this is test cricket and some times you have to beat to become a true champion. The problem with Indian bowlers is that they are pampered so much even before they have started that it just looks absurd and wrong

  • on August 10, 2014, 1:43 GMT

    Beautifully written, a very lovable piece about a very lovable character. Thanks, Jarrod Kimber.

  • on August 10, 2014, 1:14 GMT

    I (should) have said it before and I will say it again: Jarrod, your writing, much like the offerings of cricketing greats, leaves the fan in doubt whether the heart, the style, or the technique is the stand out quality.

    In the end, the fan simply calls it a three-way tie and enjoys what's on view.

    Accept a hearty bravo and gratitude for a beautiful read from a fan.

  • on August 9, 2014, 23:16 GMT

    Happy for Pankaj that he finally got a couple of wickets. But, sadly, he does not have the fast bowlers menace to disturb the poise of batsmen at the international level. India, to be competitive, does not need a genial hulk as a fast bowler, India needs a fast bowler with excellent control of line and length and skills matching the destruction fury of a hurricane. Pankaj, unfortunately, lacks these characteristics of an international caliber fast bowler.

  • Fifthman on August 9, 2014, 22:38 GMT

    Pankaj Singh is a hugely likeable, honest trier who (up till now) hasn't had much luck. Delighted for him that he got his first Test match wicket, even if it was a pretty poor delivery. He's bowled far better for no reward.

  • Hardy1 on August 9, 2014, 22:26 GMT

    He is indeed a very loveable character although sadly it doesn't seem as if he's cut for this level. You would assume he doesn't normally bowl as many bad balls as he has done in these 2 Tests but unfortunately in Test cricket you don't get many opportunities. With Ishant probably coming back for the final Test this could well be his last match for India...but he'll always be a Test wicket taker & the beauty came in his luck turning full circle with his dismissal.

  • SpaMaster on August 9, 2014, 22:15 GMT

    Yeah, but he has not been good in this Test match. Too many bad balls. At least one in an over, often two, sometimes three. He does bowl tight deliveries or good delivers 3-4 times an over, but the other two rank bad balls totally wastes all the good work. This sort of discipline is not good enough to be a good Test bowler. I think he (not Aaron) would make way for Ishant at The Oval if Ishant is fit.

  • D.S.A on August 9, 2014, 21:59 GMT

    It's evident that his inaccuracy was that of a bowler who was looking for their first wicket, rather than a bowler simply looking for a wicket. Now that he has two wickets, the burden of being wicketless is not on his shoulders, and if India were able to set England a target of 250, a different Pankaj Singh would have emerged, one not shackled with no wickets, and he would have bowled more accurately, and not looking to bowl a glory delivery, that was taken for runs, mostly fours. India's next XI should be: 1. Murali Vijay, 2. Gautam Gambhir, 3. Cheteshwar Pujara, 4. Ajinkya Rahane, 5. Naman Ojha, 6. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, 7. Ravichandran Ashwin, 8. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9. Varun Aaron, 10. Ishwar Pandey, 11. Pankaj Singh. Virat should be dropped due to gross non-performance, Ajinkya should be promoted, Naman and Ishwar deserve an overseas Test match to prove what they can do in Test match cricket.

  • SanjeevRamani on August 9, 2014, 21:55 GMT

    Prose, poetry, emotions and cricket in beautiful proportions. Enough said !

  • wolf777 on August 9, 2014, 21:34 GMT

    Good to finally see the smile on Pankaj Singh's face...too bad he is playing for a poor captain who does not know how to handle his fast bowlers...

  • amarrahey on August 9, 2014, 20:33 GMT

    Like John Mathew stated - I did not have no binoculars Jarrod... if only had I known before starting to read this piece! I hope Pankaj reads it - It'll give him a great analysis and loads of self belief. And I really, really hope MS and Duncan read this - It'll give Pankaj another chance!

  • on August 9, 2014, 20:24 GMT

    Great article!! Feels like Jarrod articulates what I wanted to say.

  • CrickFan1976 on August 9, 2014, 20:09 GMT

    I hope the StarSports commentators get to read this article!

  • nachiketajoshi on August 9, 2014, 19:43 GMT

    Bravo, Jarrod, this is "The hundred foot journey" of the cricket writing :-)

  • SajithaD on August 9, 2014, 19:38 GMT

    Pankaj Singh had a hardest lesson period which a bowler can have... Who knows maybe after 2-3 years we may say "hey do you know the pankaj singh took 415 bowls to take first wicket and only 15 matches to take 100 wickets"...

  • on August 9, 2014, 19:36 GMT

    This article was sublime! Well done, Jarrod. Amidst the smiles that wreathed the writing, they evoked the tears you shed, except that some readers are short of the pair of binoculars that lent you shielding security. Pankaj is a wicket taker. More than that, he is a multiple wicket taker, if by the minimum possible count. It may well end at that. Yet he won't be forgotten.

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  • on August 9, 2014, 19:36 GMT

    This article was sublime! Well done, Jarrod. Amidst the smiles that wreathed the writing, they evoked the tears you shed, except that some readers are short of the pair of binoculars that lent you shielding security. Pankaj is a wicket taker. More than that, he is a multiple wicket taker, if by the minimum possible count. It may well end at that. Yet he won't be forgotten.

  • SajithaD on August 9, 2014, 19:38 GMT

    Pankaj Singh had a hardest lesson period which a bowler can have... Who knows maybe after 2-3 years we may say "hey do you know the pankaj singh took 415 bowls to take first wicket and only 15 matches to take 100 wickets"...

  • nachiketajoshi on August 9, 2014, 19:43 GMT

    Bravo, Jarrod, this is "The hundred foot journey" of the cricket writing :-)

  • CrickFan1976 on August 9, 2014, 20:09 GMT

    I hope the StarSports commentators get to read this article!

  • on August 9, 2014, 20:24 GMT

    Great article!! Feels like Jarrod articulates what I wanted to say.

  • amarrahey on August 9, 2014, 20:33 GMT

    Like John Mathew stated - I did not have no binoculars Jarrod... if only had I known before starting to read this piece! I hope Pankaj reads it - It'll give him a great analysis and loads of self belief. And I really, really hope MS and Duncan read this - It'll give Pankaj another chance!

  • wolf777 on August 9, 2014, 21:34 GMT

    Good to finally see the smile on Pankaj Singh's face...too bad he is playing for a poor captain who does not know how to handle his fast bowlers...

  • SanjeevRamani on August 9, 2014, 21:55 GMT

    Prose, poetry, emotions and cricket in beautiful proportions. Enough said !

  • D.S.A on August 9, 2014, 21:59 GMT

    It's evident that his inaccuracy was that of a bowler who was looking for their first wicket, rather than a bowler simply looking for a wicket. Now that he has two wickets, the burden of being wicketless is not on his shoulders, and if India were able to set England a target of 250, a different Pankaj Singh would have emerged, one not shackled with no wickets, and he would have bowled more accurately, and not looking to bowl a glory delivery, that was taken for runs, mostly fours. India's next XI should be: 1. Murali Vijay, 2. Gautam Gambhir, 3. Cheteshwar Pujara, 4. Ajinkya Rahane, 5. Naman Ojha, 6. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, 7. Ravichandran Ashwin, 8. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9. Varun Aaron, 10. Ishwar Pandey, 11. Pankaj Singh. Virat should be dropped due to gross non-performance, Ajinkya should be promoted, Naman and Ishwar deserve an overseas Test match to prove what they can do in Test match cricket.

  • SpaMaster on August 9, 2014, 22:15 GMT

    Yeah, but he has not been good in this Test match. Too many bad balls. At least one in an over, often two, sometimes three. He does bowl tight deliveries or good delivers 3-4 times an over, but the other two rank bad balls totally wastes all the good work. This sort of discipline is not good enough to be a good Test bowler. I think he (not Aaron) would make way for Ishant at The Oval if Ishant is fit.