Digging his heels, carving a niche: Playing cricket the Priyank Panchal way
We live in volatile times when people want results filtering out with a lot of haste. There is no scope to wait, persevere, plan and then execute something; people execute something and then contemplate their decision.
Cricket, in many ways, is just an extrapolation of life as a whole. The frenetic approach which has engulfed the game courtesy the fickleness of the Twenty20 format has in many ways eroded the very concept of cricket, Test cricket, which will always remain pristine, devoid of the vacillating nature of the turmoil masked as frenzy.
And hence, in this current context, when IPL contracts have been the punctuation marks for cricketers, players who toil away in the dirt and dust of First Class cricket, plying their trade in empty stadiums and then forcing people to sit up and take notice, deserve to be lauded.
Priyank Panchal, the newest breed of batting machinery to emerge from the hinterland in Ahmedabad does not have an IPL contract, he has no mass following, but he has the appetite to score runs. He wants to go the distance, but does not believe in taking shortcuts, he wants to break into the Indian team by smashing the door open with the weight of his runs in the domestic scene.
He plundered 1310 runs in the previous seasons, batting for hours, weeks, months. He batted for the entire season and when Gujarat won the title, he basked in the glory…no packed houses still…no packed houses yet…
Panchal has barged into the national setup as he is now a part of the India-A plans and under the tutelage of a certain Rahul Dravid, his journey has just begun.
Here he speaks with Sportskeeda about his journey so far and his plans for the future.
You had a bumper season last year. What changed for you, what clicked?
I have been consistent for Gujarat for the past three years also. However, I knew I had to play consistent cricket, and for that, merely scoring hundreds is not enough. There is competition to get into even the India A squad and this I knew, hence I made up my mind to stretch myself and my game and score big hundreds. It was all about the mindset, and I changed it last year and perhaps this is what clicked.
I was more comfortable scoring double and triple centuries. It all boils down to the mindset, at the end of the day.
What was your role in the side and did you take extra responsibility for the resurgence of Gujarat?
As a senior player, it was my responsibility to perform whenever I walked out to bat. I tried to inculcate a sense of responsibility; seniority comes with a lot of responsibility.
How influential has Parthiv Patel been for your career?
Parthiv (bhai) is always there to help us, he is an experienced player and there is no substitute for experience. His talks inspired us to achieve more and we got the desired results.
We also had Jasprit (Bumrah) and Axar (Patel) and they have now gained a lot of experience in International cricket and this has helped our dressing room a lot. We shared a lot of things and managed to keep things simple, a mantra which did the job for us.
You are now part of the India A setup. What are the differences between a Ranji Trophy match and an A-game?
The quality of players in the A circuit. There is by no means a dearth of quality in our Ranji setup, but yes, if you are playing for your A side, you face quality bowlers from other countries, which is a step up.
Apart from this, all the players who form the team have done well and deserve this chance, hence there is competition within the team to do well and grab the opportunities.
I am not comparing quality, but when I faced New Zealand A, there were at least 4 bowlers who never the let the intensity slip, something which can sometimes be missing in Ranji Trophy.
Not much of a difference, but these subtleties stand out!
Your game is similar to that of your India A coach, Rahul Dravid. What were the discussions you had?
Without a doubt, Rahul sir is always there to help us, he never shies away from talking to us. Whenever I’ve asked him about my game and a few intricacies, he has always replied with a lot of humility and precision.
The best thing about him is that he has always backed my game and given me the confidence to trust my way and respect the way I play my game. Moreover, he has advised us not to compare our game to anyone else.
You are one of the few players who has played with the pink ball. What are the basic differences between the red and pink ball?
For a batsman, there is not a big difference, but yes you have to adapt very early.
It depends on the weather and the pitch conditions. If it is a hard surface, the ball loses its shine pretty quickly compared to the red ball and if the pitch is damp and soft, the shine remains for a longer period of time.
Your game is suited to the longer format, but do you personally believe your game can adapt to all the three formats?
For sure, I can play in all the three formats, but people talk about my game in the longer format because I was amongst the runs last year in the Ranji Trophy.
I am not looking at only one format, personally, I want to crack all the three formats and hence I look forward to opportunities to grow as a player irrespective of the format.
Are you aiming for an IPL contract next season?
Frankly, I am not thinking too much about any selection. I just want to focus on my next game, give it my all and perform to the best of my abilities. Selection and contracts will take care of themselves, there is no point brooding over them.
Yeah, if they come along, I am ready and confident that I will be able to perform.
The Indian Test team is packed with options like Dhawan, Rahul, Vijay, and Mukund. How do you believe you can break through?
I am just trying to be consistent, and control things which are in my hand. I do not take any game easily and am looking to perform in every game I am a part of.
People are talking about me today because I have performed and I see no reason why this will change in the future. It is quite simple, to be honest. If I keep performing, results will follow!
At a day and age when people look for fast-paced actions, you grind out scores. What keeps you going, your temperament?
This is not rocket-science, to be honest, for me, it is all about the next ball. Yes, the focus is always on the next ball, and the process is repeated, day in and day out!
What clicked for Gujarat in the previous season?
Our squad. We have a solid balance in our team, with young players coming through the ranks, and seniors to guide them through the tough times.
And then our leader, Parthiv bhai is always there for every one of us, ever ready to help, talk and listen to us.
We (openers) were performing well last year, and our efforts did not go waste because of the solid middle order batting. It was all about clicking at the right time, covering all the bases!
How confident are you of your chances this year?
We have not changed anything. Last year we took things one match at a time, and we are doing things the same way this season as well.
We never waste our time contemplating results, what matters is the process, and this is where we put in all our focus, to get the process right.
Personally, what are your aims for this season?
No goals right now, very frankly, I am blank. If I have aims for the entire season, this will only put a lot of pressure on me, something which might hamper my game.
Like I said, I will take it one game at a time, give it my all and move on to the next match.
Even if I get to play one Test match or one ODI, it would mean a great deal for me!
Who have served as your role models and the people who have helped you in your career?
There have been no role models as such, but yes, there are people who have inspired me at different times in my career.
I have watched Rahul Dravid, and now I am inspired by Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni. They have set a great example and I derive inspiration from them.
Also, I am thankful to Gaames Unlimited, my management company. They are the reason why I have signed with Gray Nicolls on a long-term contract.