Features and Interviews

Ishwar Pandey – destiny’s child

The journey from a science classroom to the Indian dressing room

He was born on the 15th of August – India’s Independence Day – to an army officer in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh. He studied science in high school at the insistence of his academic-minded father and cricket was only a leisurely activity played with a tennis ball.

But when he bowled with a leather ball for the first time – at a trial during the summer vacation of 12th standard – Ishwar Pandey’s destiny was sealed. What transpired in the next five years has led to his maiden India call-up in both Test and ODI squads, for the tour of New Zealand.

For Ishwar, 2014 is, indeed, a very happy new year. “There cannot be a bigger new year gift for a cricketer than to be selected for the national team.”

A fast bowler standing 6’2 feet, Ishwar has inherited his strong physique from his father. The rest is a result of the joy he derives from bowling and the hard yards he has put into it. In 31 first-class matches, Ishwar has 131 wickets at an average of 24.43. As India cricket strives to strengthen its fast bowling reservoir, Ishwar is a worthy addition to the pack.

“It is special to be named in both Test and ODI squads,” he told bcci.tv. “I have been doing well at the first-class level and the Test call-up is the reward for that. Selection in the ODI squad goes to show the faith the selectors have in my abilities.”

Ishwar’s journey to the Indian squad comprises of some fascinating twists and turns. “There was never any thought of joining the army but my father wanted me to concentrate on studies and get a decent job,” he recalls.

“I loved playing cricket since I was a kid but I never really thought of making it a career. I played Under-19 and one thing led to another. When I actually chose to take cricket as a profession, it was difficult to convince my father at first. But eventually he understood.”

Once the decision was made, Ishwar didn’t have to think twice before choosing his area of expertise – fast bowling.

“I used to both bat and bowl when playing tennis-ball cricket. But once I started to play with the leather ball, I found that batting was much tougher than bowling. Bowling was more fun and I think it came naturally to me.”

When it was time for the natural abilities to be nurtured, Ishwar found some fine mentors. “My university coach Aril Anthony played a big role in developing me as a fast bowler. The next big thing that happened to me was joining the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai. I will forever thank Amay Khurasia who spotted me during my U-19 days and took me there.

“I have been training there for four years, working with Dennis Lillee, and now Glen McGrath. During the IPL, as part of the Pune Warriors, I had guidance of Allan Donald. I have idolized McGrath for a long time and he worked on fine-tuning my technique. The small things he taught me helped me perfect my outswing, which has always been my strength.”

The most significant turn in Ishwar’s cricketing journey came in 2012-13, when he finished as the highest wicket-taker in the Ranji Trophy, with 48 wickets at 21.06. Those numbers helped him book a berth in the India A squad to South Africa where he picked 11 wickets in two first-class matches and five in as many List A games. It was Ishwar’s first competitive cricket overseas.

“I had done reasonably well in my first two Ranji Trophy seasons but it was the 2012-13 season that became the turning point of my career,” he said. “I got a chance to tour South Africa with India A team and I did well there too. It was the first time I got a taste of those conditions and I did well there. I didn’t try to alter my bowling too much, just stuck to the way I bowl in India.”

As any pace bowler would be, Ishwar is glad that his first international tour is to New Zealand, a country where his kind thrives.

“It is great that my first international tour is of a country like New Zealand where fast bowlers have an edge. Irrespective of whether I get a game or not, I will get to learn so much on that tour. I am also looking forward to spending some more time with Zaheer Khan – he gave me some fine tips during the South Africa A tour,” he said.

Ishwar is as keen to learn and evolve, as any young cricketer would be. But the 24-year-old is also very clear in what he wants from his game.

“I bowl at 130-135 kph and swing the ball well. Rather than trying to bowl faster, I would prefer to improve on my swing and accuracy while maintaining my current pace.”

Features and Interviews

Proud of India’s performance at Jo’burg

Ravi Shastri urges Indian bowlers to attack Faf, AB early in the innings

We are not playing at the Bull Ring but expect another bull fight when South Africa and India face off at the Kingsmead in Durban. A scintillating contest at the Wanderers Stadium held the spectators spellbound with neither side giving an away an inch.

SA batting

Faf du Plessis, who wrested the advantage from India, has shown twice in his career that he has the ability to play match saving innings. On this occasion he took the match to a position where South Africa should have won. I think India got out of jail but at the end of it, it is a fair result because India dominated for almost four days of the match.

The pitch eased out on the last day. They used the heavy roller so the real sting in the surface and the steep bounce which was there on the first three days eased up, giving the batsmen that bit of extra time.

You must attack early players like AB de Villiers and du Plessis, who can play these long innings. Although there is not much that MS could have done on Day 5, I thought it was a lion hearted performance from our bowlers.

I thought it was a fabulous Test match and in the end the right result, though I would say South Africa should have gone for a win.

SA bowling

I would say Dale Steyn was unlucky. He must have beaten the bat at least 15 times. On another day when the luck is in your favour, you could take three wickets. It is the first time in his career that he has gone wicket-less for that many runs (30-5-104-0). He has a strike rate as good as anybody who has played the game. So it is not that he bowled one bit badly. It was just that it wasn’t his day. It happened to both sides. But I must say that the character and the discipline that the Indian batsmen showed both in the first innings with Virat Kohli and then in the second innings with Cheteshwar Pujara, Murali Vijay and Kohli is remarkable.

Morne Morkel's injury was a massive blow. In conditions like these, he is one of the meanest fast bowlers around because he is tall and bowls into the body. He is like the West Indians of old. He doesn’t give too many runs away, bottles up one end and keeps the pressure.

Reflections

I don’t think India could have done anything differently. If anything, they would have hoped for more help for Ravichandran Ashwin. On the fifth day track, you think the ball would turn but unfortunately nothing happened. When he plays overseas variation of pace becomes important. Try different paces because only then will you know what the best pace on that surface is.

Lesson for India is that South Africa are the No. 1 team in the world and that they are not going to give in that easily.

On the other hand SA can take a lot of lessons from India as well. The Indian batsmen’s footwork was very good in the first innings. The South Africans were found wanting in that regards, however, they were much better in the second innings.

What next in Durban

The sun is out in Durban and it will take its toll on the bowlers because it gets very hot and humid. They will prepare a fast track and will go all-out for a win. That is good because it will give India a chance as well. If Indian bowlers bowl well it could be a very tight Test match again.
I think the Proteas will go all-out for pace. They won’t go in with Imran Tahir or any other specialist spinner. JP Duminy will hold his place for the Test and will be used as a part-time spinner.

(As told to Prajakta Pawar)