'What more do I need to do?' - Pankaj Singh
"Jaan toh lagani hi padti hai jab bhi gend aapke haath mein hoti hai [You have to give it all every time you bowl]," Pankaj Singh, the Rajasthan bowling spearhead for well over half a dozen years now, said after having bowled three spells at his best on the last day of their Ranji Trophy Group A tie against Madhya Pradesh. Such was Pankaj's energy that each one of his three spells on a meaningless last day, was as good as - if not better than - his opening spell of the match under a blazing sun on the first morning at the KL Saini Stadium.
Even though Pankaj, 27, tried to be as optimistic as possible, there was a hint of frustration in his voice. And soon, rather than answering a question, he himself raised one that has been pondering not only him but a lot of Indian cricket followers. "Can someone tell me why is it that I am not picked for India [in Tests]?" he asked. "I have picked 150 wickets in the last four domestic seasons and there have been so many others who have been given an opportunity. Why I am not presented with an opportunity? What more do I need to do to seek attention [of the selectors]?"
There's no doubt that Pankaj has a point while venting out his dejection. After all, despite being one of the most accurate, consistent and wicket-taking bowlers on the domestic scene over the last five seasons, he has been consistently ignored by the national selectors. The only time he was part of the Test squad was during the tour to Australia in 2007-08 but he didn't get an opportunity to bowl in a competitive game during the tour.
The only time he wore the national jersey was during the tri-nation series in Zimbabwe in June 2012 as part of a second-string India squad led by Suresh Raina. While all the other India pace bowlers on that tour have played at least one Test, Pankaj is still waiting for his chance. Since then, he has consistently picked wickets in domestic cricket. He was the second-highest wicket-taker in the 2010-11 Ranji season with 43 wickets [53 in the whole domestic season] and was the third highest wicket-taker in Rajasthan's victorious campaign last season.
Did he try and ask any selector - none of whom is a member of the refurbished national selection panel - about what he needed to do in order to get a national call-up? "I had asked one of them about three years ago. I was told I was lacking in pace, so I worked on it and now, I can consistently bowl 135+ [kph] for hours," he said. "Then they said I don't perform against the big teams. I can tell you that I have played six games against Mumbai and barring two of them [including last week's Group A tie], I have picked rich hauls in the other four games."
Despite his returns of one for 90 against Rohit Sharma-led Mumbai in Jaipur last week, Pankaj has picked three five-wicket hauls in six outings against the domestic stalwarts.
While the likes of Ashok Menaria and Robin Bist have gone on to represent India A after starring in Rajasthan's back-to-back Ranji triumphs, Pankaj's impressive record has been overlooked. "Let alone the India side," he said.
But howsoever frustrated a sportsperson is, a ray of hope is what keeps him going through the paces day and day out. The case was no different for Pankaj, who signed off with: "I have been ignored even in the A squad for a long time. I just hope that my efforts will be recognised soon."
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo