Rajasthan v Baroda, Ranji Trophy, Group B, 1st day, Jaipur December 30, 2013

Pankaj runs through Baroda top-order

Baroda 163 for 6 (Waghmode 79*, Pankaj 4-60) v Rajasthan

This was an interesting match for Rajasthan since they were playing without a professional after a number of years. The selectors had already dropped Ramesh Powar from the squad. On Sunday, captain Hrishikesh Kanitkar, who had played with a muscle tear in his leg in the previous round, ruled himself out. Kanitkar had been the backbone of Rajasthan's climb from the Plate to Elite ranks and the force behind their winning the Ranji Trophy twice.

But Rajasthan still had Pankaj Singh. The tall, broad-shouldered Pankaj has been Rajasthan's go-to man with the ball as much as Kanitkar has been their brain over the last few seasons. From 2010, Pankaj has taken over 25 wickets every Ranji season, and has twice been among the top five wicket-takers.

This season, before this match, Pankaj had taken 35 wickets at 20.97, including three 5-fors. He was a wicket away from taking his tally to 40 when bad light stopped play halfway through the second session.

On an avocado-green pitch with good bounce, Rajasthan opted to field. Considering they were out of contention the selectors had made four changes to the squad and Rajasthan fielded three debutants: Suryaprakash Suwalka (batsman), Azim Akhtar (wicketkeeper) and Naman Kataria (fast bowler). But all eyes were on Pankaj. Rajasthan needed a good start, Baroda a good beginning.

In the third over of the morning, Pankaj struck a double blow. The third ball of the second over he moved in to trap opener Dhiren Mistry lbw. The final delivery was pitched marginally outside the off stump. Abhimanyu Chouhan decided to leave the ball and was astonished to see his off stump sent cartwheeling. Pankaj's roaring celebration echoed around the empty Sawai Mansingh Stadium.

The plight of a domestic cricketer is well-known: his performances are watched by a handful and remain under-appreciated. Pankaj has endured this for long, but has continued to motivate himself. Despite consistent performances over the years he has wondered why the national selectors have not bothered to consider him even once in the last few years, even for an A tour. But instead of brooding too much and for too long, he has converted his frustration into more wickets, and taken them by the bagful.

Bowling at around 135kph, Pankaj hit the deck hard, surprising the batsmen with not just movement but also bounce and pace. Irfan Pathan, playing primarily as a middle-order batsman, was squared up by a rising delivery that pitched back of a length, moved away a little and climbed over the Baroda left-hander's head. A young fan sitting at the North Stand end (behind the third man boundary) screamed "chakka maar, Irfan (hit a six)". Irfan pushed the next ball solidly to cover and ran two, and bottom-edged the one after that, playing with hard hands, to long leg for a single.

Pankaj was putting pressure on the batsmen with his relentless approach. Saurabh Wakaskar failed to read the line of a fast incoming delivery and was hit on the back pad, becoming Pankaj's third victim of the morning.

Having coming in to the match on the back of consecutive outright victories, Baroda would have fancied a much more solid batting performance. After the top-order collapse the onus was on the Pathan brothers. On Sunday, Yusuf, the captain, had indicated how his younger sibling had the responsibility of motivating the pack as well playing the anchor role.

But Irfan only made 8 before offering a simple catch to the cover fielder off left-arm fast bowler Aniket Choudhary. Disappointingly for Baroda, Yusuf also failed and gave Pankaj a catch at mid-off off the leading edge while trying to push a delivery from Deepak Chahar to the on-side.

Only Aditya Waghmode stood resolute and made his second fifty in consecutive matches. Playing as late as possible and without trying to force the issue, Waghmode made use of the bad balls or lengths offered by the Rajasthan bowlers and led Baroda's fightback. His 74-run partnership with Pinal Shah for sixth wicket saved the visitors more embarrassment.

Pankaj, unsurprisingly, was the man who broke their alliance, Shah falling prey to a set-up. Immediately after lunch Pankaj moved five balls in a row away from Shah before slipping in an incutter that trapped the right-hander plumb. Pankaj finished the day the way he had started it. He sensed the Baroda top order would be tentative in playing their strokes against his outswingers early on, and used the incoming delivery cleverly to surprise them and upset their sense of comfort.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 31, 2013, 10:59 GMT

    He has sadly again been ignored by selectors-Is that just reward for all the hard work & toil that he's put in on dead & unresponsive Indian tracks for close to a decade?? He, along with Ishwar Pandey, Aaron & Shami should make up the pace quartet that India has been looking out for so long. Pity that non-performers like Ishant & Zaheer continue to be selected in spite of their uninspiring and spineless performances.

  • R on December 31, 2013, 7:13 GMT

    Pankaj surely deserves a chance, and an extended one at that, in place of that worthless hairy slob called Ishant Sharma. Why he is being persisted with, only God knows. Or, perhaps Mr Dhobi.

  • thomas on December 30, 2013, 19:11 GMT

    Selectors are meeting on Tuesday hopefully they will pencil his name in instead of Mohit sharma. To be honest Indian team is looking more and more like Sharma XI...and many of them should have been dropped long ago

  • Rajesh on December 30, 2013, 17:38 GMT

    I believed that Pankaj should have been selected to tour Australia when India went there last. But the selectors neglected him then and continue to do so.Pankaj treads on faithfully, hopefully.

  • Dummy4 on December 30, 2013, 15:32 GMT

    Another Ranji season,another Ranji match and another superlative performance from domestic cricket biggest 6ft 5 workhouse running and grabbing wickets for fun, already a tally of 39 and more than likely finish top wicket taker. However no matter what tally of wickets he finishes with it seems Rajasthan and its cricketers have become untouchable for Indian selectors. Pankaj has been doing it every season, his size and decent speed would have worked wonders in SA and in Eng, when he does get into the squad he's not given an opportunity. It goes to show that its not how well you play the game its who you know in the game which will get you a chance at the highest level. Domestic players from smaller states seem to have always missed out at the very top level, how many Gujarat batsmen have ever reached the Indian team ? no only good for keepers...its this mentality which will always keep India back in World cricket.

  • uncle bob on December 30, 2013, 15:30 GMT

    I think Pankaj Singh has been on the horizon for so long, that Indian selectors need to give him at least one series abroad to prove his mettle. The likes of Ishant Sharma will be mediocre no matter how many chances they get. Ishant is useless on Indian pitches and is useless on foreign pitches, so why waste time on him. Give Pankaj his deserving chance.

  • No featured comments at the moment.