Calcutta: Rajasthan pacer Pankaj Singh, who made his Test debut for India, in Southampton, on Sunday, has a city connection on more than one levels. Pankaj was first picked in the Indian Test squad for the 2007-08 series in Australia, but didn’t get a match.
The speedster had spent a couple of months in the city in 2003, sharpening his skills at two academies, including current Bengal coach Ashok Malhotra’s academy, and had even played for the Mohammedan Sporting U-19 team in a tournament in Bangalore.
Pankaj played an ODI, against Sri Lanka, in 2010, but returned wicketless. But he has been very impressive in the Ranji Trophy for the last few seasons and has 300 wickets from 77 first-class matches.
On Sunday, it was an interesting coincidence that the 29-year-old was handed the Test cap by former India captain Sourav Ganguly, the city’s most prominent face in cricket.
Pankaj was drafted in the playing XI after Lord’s Test hero Ishant Sharma was ruled of the match owing to an ankle injury. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher requested Sourav to say a few words during the cap-presentation ritual. Sourav praised the team for doing India proud and urged them to keep up the good work. He also wished Pankaj luck for his first Test.
However, Pankaj wasn’t didn’t have a very lucky day. The pacer could have got Alastair Cook when the England captain was on 15, but Ravindra Jadeja dropped a sitter at third slip.
Pankaj’s day went wicketless as he had figures of 20-3-62-0, but the debutant was impressive and it was a good first day for him in Test cricket.
After the day’s play, Pankaj revealed that it was his dream to play Test cricket and words could not describe his feelings. “It’s definitely a happy moment for me now that I’ve made my Test debut… It was my dream and I got it… An unbelievable feeling, which cannot be expressed in words… But obviously, I would’ve been happier if I got wickets. Hopefully, I’ll be able to put up an improved show on Monday,” Pankaj said.
The tall pacer tried his best but couldn’t get a wicket with the ball missing the edge on a number of occasions. “I tried my best to take wickets, but things just didn’t go in my favour… Hopefully, things will fall in place tomorrow,” he said.
Pankaj felt that the pitch is on the slower side. “The pitch is a bit on the slower side… There’s not enough seam movement as we had expected… The ball is coming on to the batsmen at a comfortable height. There’s no variable bounce here… So once the batsmen are set, it’s pretty difficult to get them out. The bowlers have to bowl on the right areas to force the batsmen into committing errors,” he explained.
Asked about the dropped chance of Cook, Pankaj quipped that a debutant bowler has to make friends with the fielder.
Monday will be important for India as England dominated the opening day and Pankaj is aware of that. “Monday is an extremely important day for us, as we need to get them out as early as possible. We also need to bat well and give ourselves a chance of winning this match,” he said.
Ishant, who was the Man of the Match in Lord’s, where he took career-best figures of 7/74 to help India to a 95-run victory, had left the ground during the final stages of the second Test and captain Dhoni had raised concerns about his fitness following his long match-winning spell.
But in the first two days of practice leading up to the ongoing third Test, there were no hints that Ishant was nursing an injury. He didn’t bowl on Friday and it was hinted that he was just recovering from the physical exertions of the second Test.
Ishant did bowl on Saturday, a day ahead of the Test, and was reportedly seen walking off midway through the practice session with an ice-pack on his left ankle. The team management though denied that this was a fitness issue at all.
Even during the media conference, when asked about the composition of his bowling attack, Dhoni did not mention that there were any concerns regarding Ishant’s availability for the third Test.