Pankaj Singh relives the summer of 2014

The Rajasthan pacer, a part of India’s last tour to England, feels maintaining line and length is the key for any bowler to contain jitters.

Pankaj Singh in action against England in Southampton in 2014.   -  AP

There is a popular belief in the cricketing circuit — a Test series in the English conditions makes or mars careers. The traditional argument holds true even in today’s time, and that’s the reason every time a team does well at home, the cricket pundits urge that the players be judged on their performance in England.

It is no different for the Indian team. After a rather clinical outing in the shorter format, as Virat Kohli’s men gear up for the marathon Test series against host England, the house appears divided on how India’s young guns will deliver in the conditions that’s difficult to gauge.

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And Pankaj Singh, who was part of India’s Test team, in its last tour to England in 2014, admits that it needs a bit of grit and determination to shine in the cool confines of England. “Playing abroad is always challenging. The conditions are new, but then, if you are maintaining the line and length then things should ease out,” Pankaj tells Sportstar.

The Rajasthan pace ace, who featured in two Tests for India in that tour, was left out of the side after the series. And perhaps that’s why, Pankaj knows the importance of staying grounded and playing to one’s strength. “It is important to forget what you have done in the past. That’s the best approach,” Pankaj says.

For most of the bowlers — with the exceptions of Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma — this is the first tour to England. So, quite expectedly, the pressure will be on them, but Pankaj feels that with enough time for preparation, the players should have got a hang of things by now. “In that series, we got used to bowling at the right spots and also knew how to keep the opposition under pressure. This time, the preparations have been even better,” the 33-year-old says.

Last time, India had a woeful run in the Test series and the cricketing fraternity was busy calling for heads. In a longer tour, how does the dressing room remain alive when things go haywire?

‘United’

Pankaj says that in 2014 things were not ‘that bad as one thought’.

“In fact, the team was united. To keep calm, there were team outings and various team bonding exercises. That eventually helped the team,” Pankaj says, adding that the players, back then, had even visited Manchester United club to cool the heels.

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“The team management is well aware of things, and the good thing about a longer series is that here you get time to bounce back. If it is a shorter series, there are possibilities that the team might not regroup. That’s not the case with longer series,” Pankaj adds.

While he agrees that for a bowler, nerves remain unsettled till the first ball is bowled, Pankaj also clarifies that lately the wickets in England and other countries have also changed a bit. “Some 10-15 years ago, they would offer extremely seaming wickets. But now, you would not see that. These days, even the touring teams are well stacked with all kinds of specialist bowlers, so the concept of putting the visitor under pressure — offering seaming conditions — is no longer there,” the pacer says.

The Shami factor

If the fraternity is pinning hopes on young spinner, Kuldeep Yadav, it would also be interesting to see how Shami performs in the conditions that suit his style of play. Coming from an injury and personal troubles, will the pressure mount on the pacer?

Pankaj disagrees. “Every tour is challenging for a bowler. But one should look at it as a morale booster. The moment you step into Indian cricket circuit, there’s pressure on you. It is easy to get bogged down but then, how about taking it as a positive?” Pankaj resons.

In the last two outings — in 2011 and 2014 — India failed to deceive in the longer format of the game. And with every series debacle, there have been instances of players losing out on India berth. But this time, with the side brimming with confidence, the expectations are higher.

Like any other fan, Pankaj too wants to see India rule the roost in England.