Pankaj Kumar Rao's career has been quite the case of missed opportunities. He has been knocking on the doors of Indian cricket for a long time now but the 28-year-old is yet to break that barrier.
However, he has been shining brightly in the domestic circuit for a long time now and is an integral part of the Chattisgarh squad.
Rao began his career back in 2008 and was the highest wicket-taker in the Under 19 Cooch Behar Trophy that year as he picked up 44 wickets. With his performances, he should have surely been a part of the U-19 squad to travel to Australia, however, given the fact that he would have been unable to take part in the U-19 World Cup the following year due to his age, the selectors decided against picking him in the squad for the tour to Australia.
Since then, he has made his mark in the domestic tournaments in India and is soon hoping to make his debut for the Indian cricket team.
Rao caught up with Sportskeeda for an exclusive chat about his career.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Q. How has your journey been so far as a cricketer?
My father Late Shri Harinath Rao was a national athlete - a 400-metre runner who was the national champion of Madhya Pradesh. My family background is in sports and it was on the basis of this that he got a job, so he always encouraged me to take up sports but I wasn't interested in athletics. I was always interested in playing cricket. So I began going to cricket summer camps when I was a kid in Billai. Initially, I didn't want to take up the sport as a profession, but my interest kept increasing every day and I kept getting better.
I went on to play for the U-15 and U-17 teams from there and that's where my career started. In 2008, I was the highest wicket-taker in the Cooch Behar U-19 Trophy. I took 44 wickets in that season. I was extremely close to getting selected for the Indian U-19 team for the Australia tour that year as well but unfortunately, I was not eligible for the squad as I was not of the right age for the World Cup which was to take place next year. That very season I got selected for the Madhya Pradesh ODI team for the Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2009.
Q. Why the switch from Madhya Pradesh to Chattisgarh?
I did not get enough chances in the Ranji Trophy with Madhya Pradesh. I was in the squad but did not get enough chances. In 2016, I was quite anxious as I wanted to play and perform. And then, in 2016, my state, Chattisgarh received affiliation to play in the Ranji Trophy. From there, I began to play for them. I am extremely thankful to the association - the President, the Secretary and all the other members for making this possible. I am also thankful to the BCCI for giving us the go-ahead to play in the Ranji Trophy.
Q. How would you assess your performances in the past few seasons?
In the 2016-17 season, I played really well and picked up many wickets, including a ten-wicket haul against Hyderabad. I was the eighth highest wicket-taker that season and fourth highest amongst fast bowlers. Then, in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, I picked up 16 wickets, which was the fourth highest amongst all the bowlers in India. Based on this, I was selected for the India A squad for the Deodar Trophy.
With Sid Kaul and Shardul Thakur in the same team, I did not get to play. However, I got selected for the Duleep Trophy that year and I played along with big names like Suresh Raina, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jaydev Unadkat, and a lot of other big names. This year as well, I was the eighth highest wicket-taker in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Over the past 3 years, I have played in 6 tournaments across all 3 formats of the game and in most of them, I was amongst the highest wicket-takers. I have taken about 80 wickets in the past two seasons and have been amongst the top 10 bowlers.
I am thankful to national selectors who saw my talent and performances. The association has helped us a lot and has given us great facilities to work with. They have already begun a camp for the next season which begun a May.
Q. Did you want to be a bowler since the beginning of your career?
I wanted to be a bowler since childhood as I was never really interested in batting. People around me told me that my in-swing is God-gifted. I didn't know what in-swing was but I was able to do it, however, later on, when I grew up, I understood what it was and worked on it.
Q. What do you have to say about Mohammed Kaif?
Over the last few years, Mohammed Kaif, who is my captain has helped me a lot. Whatever I am today is because of him. He has guided me and given me advice on how to take wickets and how to perform and how to get the big guys out. He taught me the A-Z of what to do and has supported me throughout.
Q. Who has been your inspiration growing up?
From the beginning, Javagal Srinath and Glenn Mcgrath have been my inspiration. From the current crop, I follow Bhuvneshwar Kumar a lot, since my style is quite similar to his.
Q. What do you think about the IPL and the opportunities it presents to domestic cricketers?
IPL is helping domestic cricketers a lot, who are going on to play for India A and India eventually. It's a great platform to showcase your talent so I rate the IPL extremely high. Its a great experience for domestic cricketers. I have been hoping for the past few years that I get picked by some franchise and play in the IPL soon. My focus is on my performance and I will continue performing to the best of my ability.