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Pankaj Singh has been a consistent performer for his state team, Rajasthan, and his IPL franchise, Rajasthan Royals, for the last few seasons. A local hero, he was instrumental in Rajasthan winning the coveted Ranji Trophy for the first time and was third on the leading wicket-takers’ list in the 2011-12 season. The tall paceman played a crucial role in the Royals’ victory over Royal Challengers Bangalore in their away match. His early blows, including the key wicket of Chris Gayle, helped his team secure the win.
Speaking to iplt20.com on the eve of their match against Deccan Chargers, Pankaj spoke about fast-bowling in the shortest format of the game and how domestic cricket experience benefits a player in the IPL.
Rajasthan, your state team, were unlikely domestic champs. Rajasthan Royals aren’t IPL favourites either. How similar is the experience?
I was part of Rajasthan Royals in the very first season when we won the IPL [in 2008]. Then again for the last two years I have been part of the team. I bond well with the team. We are looking forward [to winning] and I am trying to give my best. [...] I just try doing [the right things and take it] match by match; then I can achieve what I want.
Whenever a team wins for the first time, or is on its way to winning, there aren’t big names in it. It is when they perform that the same names become big [names]. The same is true for Rajasthan – earlier they weren’t winning but now they are progressing and now that they have won, some names like Ashok Menaria, Deepak Chahar and mine are recognised. They have proved themselves in the [longer formats] of the game and now they have to make a name for themselves in the T20 format and help the team too. Now we are known as a team to be reckoned with. RR have been winning consistently so far, especially away matches. How much credit would you give to the planning that has gone in?
We have been working hard since before the IPL started. We have had two or three camps. The whole team is working together and everyone knows what their role is whenever they play. You are always preparing according to that. You may not always get the result you want but if you are preparing well, then you will get results seven to six times out of ten. People know their roles [in the team] and are practicing accordingly; that could also be a reason why we are getting results.
Your fellow pacemen who have also performed superbly.
I don’t have to say too much about Amit Singh or Siddharth Trivedi because they have performed well not only this year but for the last few seasons. They have been bowling consistently so it is not a new thing. We know that when the time comes, they are going to deliver [...]
Does domestic cricket experience help when it comes to knowing the local conditions and tracks a little better?
Definitely. You have a bit of an advantage because you have played for the entire season, the whole year, somewhere or the other and you are going to play there again; the only difference is in the format. How quickly you adapt to the T20 format is what matters. As far as the wicket and the conditions are concerned, you have a good idea about that.
How challenging is it for a fast bowler to adapt to the T20 format?
It is challenging because the role is different here. Here you don’t have time to [continuously] bowl in one area and let the batsman commit a mistake because they are looking to score runs. The wickets aid the batsmen a bit more too. You do know that your role in [longer] matches is different form your role here and you have to adopt the role that the team wants. Sometimes you have to go for wickets and sometimes you have to look to contain the batsman. The batsmen also bat a bit more freely [in T20] than they do in one-day or [longer] matches because they have to score runs. It is a little tough and you have to work to do better. We don’t play too many Twenty20 matches; we only play the IPL and a couple of more games. When you play a few more matches [in T20] then you get a better idea of what is happening so it takes a bit of time to adapt. How do you prepare for this change of format? Do you work on bowling variations?
We play practice matches and we have certain roles like bowling with the new ball and then in death or middle overs. We practice in the nets accordingly. How do you prepare mentally for a tournament like this?
We are informed in advance about the team and our role. Then we sit and watch videos [of the opposition] and then look at our strengths as well and then discuss the plan with the coach and captain.
So what was the plan while bowling against RCB in the Powerplay?
I was told prior to the game what my role was in the match so I knew I had to bowl during the Powerplay. We had a plan for [Chris] Gayle and [Mayank] Agarwal because we knew what kind of players they are. We had to get Gayle out [early], either me or Johan Botha. We knew that to strengthen our position we had to get Gayle’s wicket and increase our chances of winning. If we couldn’t get him out then we would have tried to contain him and kept him away from the strike. [...] The wicket was good and our bowling was also good. We spoke to Rahul [Dravid] bhai and worked on getting him out.
Is your primary aim to get wickets or restrict the opposition from scoring?
As bowlers we want to get batsmen out because that’s the best way to put pressure on a team. At the same time, when conditions don’t suit you and the batsman is in form, you try to contain him and hope that he makes a mistake.
Which is your favourite delivery?
My stock ball is the outswinger so I try to bowl it in the right areas. What are the variations that you have been working on?
My line and length has been good since the beginning so I concentrate on that [...] And then I work on the slower deliveries, the leg-cutter, the off-cutter and slow bouncers. You have to use them according to the conditions. When you are bowling in the death you would use a slower ball instead of a [good] length ball. What has your journey in cricket been like so far?
I have been performing well for a few years now. I am hoping to get rewards for that, let’s see when that happens. I was in the Indian team in 2007-08 and did well at that time too. I have been doing well since then. [...] I will do well in the IPL too. Everyone watches your performance on this platform. It is a big platform and if you do well here too it is definitely counted [...]. I will do my best and then leave it to destiny.
Part of the Rajasthan Royals’ side that lifted the IPL trophy in the first edition, paceman Siddharth Trivedi feels his team is capable of doing it again. Although he believes it is too early to make predictions, the 29-year-old is confident his team will spring a few surprises as the tournament progresses.
While his mate Pankaj Singh set the tone of the game against Royal Challengers Bangalore with the wicket of Chris Gayle, Trivedi took a four-for to break the backbone of the heavyweight side. Excerpts from Trivedi’s exclusive interview with iplt20.com on the eve of the game against Deccan Chargers:
RR’s pacemen’s performance against the mighty RCB batting line-up was commendable.
We kept it simple and stuck to the basics. We had got a good idea about how the wicket was behaving while our team was batting. We have a certain plan and we have certain strengths so we worked on it and got success. What areas have you been working on as a fast bowler?
I am more of a variation bowler. I mix my pace depending on the wicket and the batsman – that’s what I work on during practice sessions too. I have been implementing [my plans] well [and using] slower balls. My length, too, has been much better this year. I am consistently bowling a good line and length so that’s why I think I have been performing well.
What’s it like to play in the IPL?
Playing with legends like Rahul Dravid, Brad Hogg, Owais Shah [and others helps]. They keep motivating [the juniors] and help us on a few minor points. I have grown as a cricketer and I’m enjoying playing the IPL. I hope to carry on the performance in the next games too.
Is your domestic cricket experience a plus when it comes to playing in the IPL?
Of course, there is that positive. But at the same time you cannot forget that this is [akin to] the biggest international tournament. We know the wickets are flat but the batsmen you will be bowling too are really tough [to bowl to], so you have to adjust to that. You have to adapt to the situation as early as possible and that is what I am trying to do.
Is it tough to adapt to the T20 format where you get to bowl a maximum of four overs?
It is very difficult because one over changes the game; even one ball can change the game so you have to be on your toes and be alert all through the 120 balls. But this is what I like about the T20 [format] – the challenge you face and whether you are up for it. You try and give it your best [...]. I have played a lot of T20, this is my fifth year, so I have a bit of IPL experience too and that helps the way I am practicing. I practice according to the role that the management and team have given to me. I work on my variations during practice and try and get better. What are the variations that you have been working on?
I have been working on my slower balls and my length balls and working on a length which batsmen will find difficult to face.
What is your favourite delivery?
The slower ball. Having been part of an IPL-winning RR side, do you feel they can surprise the world again?
Yes! The ‘underdogs’ tag was always attached to Rajasthan [Royals] [in the opening season]. We liked being called underdogs. Even this year we have surprised many teams. It is too early to tell but we have been topping the table, which shows that we have the kind of players that are very destructive. We are going to surprise a few of the teams in this tournament.
As a bowler, how do you keep coming back and keep yourself motivated after being hit?
You have to be strong because T20 is [the type of] game where you are going to be hit for four and six in the first two balls. You have to back yourself and think, ‘OK. Whatever has happened, I have to come back strong.’ Rahul Dravid and my teammates back me when I get hit for runs. They say to me, ‘No problem; you are going to bowl your best ball next.’ The backing of your teammates helps a lot.
A word on your fellow pacemen, Amit Singh and Pankaj Singh.
Amit Singh too has been part of Rajasthan Royals for two or three years; he is also a very good bowler. He has been performing consistently in domestic cricket too where we are part of the same team, so we have a good understanding. Pankaj Singh has also been doing well on the domestic circuit and has been the highest wicket-taker as well. The way he took Chris Gayle’s wicket in Bangalore set the tone [for the win]. The three of us bowled well and will continue in the next games too.