Things were looking extremely bleak for a 19-year-old Ishwar Pandey when he had to undergo an appendix surgery while participating in the inter-division camp in Indore in 2009. The advice from the doctor was complete bed rest for six months. Pandey was distraught as he had already crossed the Under-19 level and a break at that point might put paid to his dreams of being a cricketer. But Pandey survived that tough phase, made steady progress at every level and is now on the verge of representing India A on their tour of South Africa.
Pandey is one of four pace bowlers selected in the 16-member squad, which comprises India hopefuls who will stake their claims for the national team that will tour South Africa in November this year. After spending the last three months at the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai, Pandey is looking forward to the tour that might be the first major step to achieve his cherished dream of representing the country.
"After the IPL [which ended on May 26] I played the inter-division Twenty20 matches and then went to the MRF where I spent over two months," Pandey, who was the leading wicket-taker with 48 at 21.40 - in the last Ranji Trophy season, tells Cricketnext.
Glenn McGrath's influence
It could be any upcoming pacer's dream to receive first-hand information about the nuances of the game from the legendary Australian fast bowler. And with McGrath now at the helm of affairs at MRF, Pandey got the maximum out of his presence. "McGrath gave me a lot of tips such as how to get my outswing going. I wasn't able to get the outswing as much as I used to. We then worked on my technique a bit. Also there were a few minor problems which were resolved," says Pandey said about the role McGrath played.
Along with teaching him the finer points of outswing bowling, McGrath also told Pandey how to get the ball to reverse on a regular basis. Pandey adds that there has been mo major changes made in his bowling technique at the MRF Academy where he has been a part of for the last three years. "I was told that my action is good and all I need to do is to work on my fitness more. McGrath told me the more I stay fit the better I will get," he says.
Pandey played two matches for Pune Warriors in IPL 6 which did not go according to expectation as he went for 50 runs and took just one wicket. Pandey said he did not have much experience playing Twenty20 games and that too in such pressure situations. "There was some pressure in the beginning as every IPL match is big. After playing those two matches I got to know in which areas I need to improve upon," says Pandey who has played only six domestic T20 matches.
Tough early days
Many kids with middle-class upbringing find it tough to convince their parents of a possible career in sports, and Pandey faced the same crisis in 2008. "My father [who is a retired subedar-major] wanted me to become a doctor and he was not convinced of my choice of becoming a cricketer," he says, "but my coach, Aril Anthony, really supported me well in that initial stage. When I thought of stopping after playing just for a year, he spoke to my father and tried to convince him. He asked my father to give me a year's time so that I can prove myself. And what happened after that feels like a dream."
After the disappointments of undergoing an operation in Indore in 2009, Pandey never looked back from that point. First he performed in the inter-division matches, taking 11 wickets. Then he was sent to play practice matches in Baroda, where he picked up eight wickets in two matches. That earned him a call-up to the Madhya Pradesh Ranji Trophy team and he took 24 wickets in six matches in his breakthrough season.
After playing a major role in his career, Anthony is confident that his prodigy has a lot of potential to be successful at the next level. "He always had the potential and the way he harnessed it and that too in such a short span of time is extraordinary," says the coach.
But Anthony, who heads the Physical Education department at the APS University in Rewa, said he wants his pupil to focus on the longer version of the game. "I want him to concentrate on Test cricket as he is a longer-format bowler. Shorter formats are batsmen friendly and it can affect the bowler's rhythm, especially early on in his career."
Aiming for the stars
Pandey is hoping to do well in South Africa as a good showing there could pave way for the senior team. "If I perform well in South Africa, it will give me a chance to represent the senior team, which is my ultimate aim."