How they short changed a tall pacer
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Among the more enduring pictures of the 2007-2008 Australia Test series, there is one that was captured at the Mumbai airport just before the Indian team's departure. In the said photo, a smiling Anil Kumble is flanked by a baby-faced Ishant Sharma and a gleaming Pankaj Singh, the captain's hands (and though not on the picture but hopes, too) resting on the young duo's shoulders. Standing between the towering six-foot-five duo, Kumble, despite his 6'1 frame, looks oddly stunted — in fact, anything but jumbo.
The significance of this shot was how, in the absence of their first-choice pacers, the injured Munaf Patel and S Sreesanth, India had decided to gamble on these two tall but greenhorn bowlers, hoping to hold their own against the Australians, if not quite physically intimidate them.
Sure enough, the nippy Ishant justified his selection by starring in a memorable win at Perth, but Pankaj, who bowled under 130kmph, played just a tour game, took two wickets, and was soon forgotten.
And five years on, he remains forgotten. It's a bit harsh on the now 27-year-old, that despite being the most consistent domestic medium-pacer in this period, he's not even where he was in 2007 — in the selectors' peripheral vision.
His name rarely crops up in selection committee meetings these days, not even as a back-up option. What seems to have happened is that his biggest asset, his frame, which saw him getting fast-tracked into the team is now being held against him. They think he doesn't bowl at a pace corresponding to his size, as he said in an interview to cricinfo recently.
He has taken 150 wickets in four seasons, but unfortunately the 150 that matters is the one calculated in kmph. Pankaj has improved his pace, which is in mid-130s now, but it's not what will make you sit up and take notice.