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Shirin Sadikot in Mumbai 03 January 2014 - 04:03pm IST

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.”