Pankaj pins hope on India call before impending retirement

“I want to take it slow. But like any other cricketer, I too want to don the India colours one more time, before ending it all,” Pankaj tells Sportstar

Pankaj Singh wants to continue with his role as a mentor after hanging up his boots.   -  Sandeep Saxena

There is something about Pankaj Singh that makes him stand out. Ask any of his team-mates in Rajasthan, and they would invariably agree that if there’s anyone who can inspire the players even in times of crisis, it is the senior medium-pacer.

Perhaps that is why, for most of the young cricketers in the side, Pankaj is an elder brother who scolds them when a move goes wrong. But at the same time, he is the first to give them a pat when they deliver the goods.

“That’s how Pankaj bhai is. Without him, we can’t even think of taking a step. For us, he is a role model,” youngster Aniket Chaudhary says, while speaking about how the senior bowler has helped him overcome the odds, and rectify his bowling action. “Many people would just give you advices, and after a certain point of time, wouldn’t even be around. But it’s the opposite with Pankaj bhai. He will stick around until you improve your performance,” says Aniket, who was recently bought by Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction for a whopping Rs. 2 crore.

As Aniket speaks about his role model, Pankaj listens in quietly, shortly after a training session at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai ahead of a Vijay Hazare Trophy match.

“I want to play another season, and take a call after that. Even I know that time is running out, so next season should be it” - Pankaj Singh

Even a smiling Pankaj admits that he loves playing the role of a mentor. The 31-year-old medium-pacer, who has played a couple of Tests for India, made his debut 13 years ago. “For me, being consistent is very important. So what if you are left out of the Indian team? That doesn’t mean you can take things easy,” Pankaj tells Sportstar.

That is something he tells his younger colleagues too. “The day you stop dreaming, it’s better you give up cricket — that’s something I’ve always believed in. Even today, I take the field with an intention to deliver the goods,” he adds.

Perhaps it is this dedication that keeps him going. Despite picking up 41 wickets in Ranji Trophy this season, Pankaj has been ignored — both for Team India and IPL. “On the day I took the 400th wicket, I knew this was it. They (selectors) wouldn’t pick me, but then, I can surely try my best,” he says with a wry smile.

About his future, Pankaj takes a pause before answering. “I want to play another season, and take a call after that. Even I know that time is running out, so next season should be it,” he says, giving a clear hint that the thoughts of hanging up the boots have crossed his mind.

“But even then, I keep myself motivated. Every time, I am snubbed, I take it as a new challenge and come out stronger,” he says, adding: “but that too has a limit, right?”

In between the conversation, some of his young colleagues come up to him to know a couple of things about the wicket, and Pankaj tells them not to be worried about anything. “The youngsters have a lot to play for, and I don’t see a reason why they should be worried. At times, when I feel dejected, I talk to myself and then feel rejuvenated. That’s how they (youngsters) should address the challenges,” the senior bowler, who last played a Test match in 2014, says.

But as he mentally prepares himself to walk towards the sunset, Pankaj wants to continue with his role as a mentor. “I like helping out the youngsters, and that’s my duty,” Pankaj says, adding that he has no plans yet for the future. “I want to take it slow. But like any other cricketer, I too want to don the India colours one more time, before ending it all,” he says with a smile.

Three years ago, when the national selectors picked him up for the England tour, Pankaj did not expect it. With the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) facing a suspension, there was no way he could board the flight to England. But it did happen then.

Perhaps, that is why Pankaj still waits for another mauka to don the India colours.

After all, it’s never too late to dream big!