For an opener, a big deal about scoring a hundred in pink-ball cricket is conquering the ‘twilight zone’ – the period of sundown, when the ball starts moving alarmingly. During his twin tons for India Red in the Duleep Trophy fixture against India Green, Priyank Panchal, however, didn’t encounter too much oddity. “No, it was like normal. No extra movement in the air or off the wicket (when dusk fell),” he says calmly.
Scores of 105 and 133 not out against India Green have been sort of an extension of Panchal’s form last season, when he scored 1,310 runs in 10 Ranji Trophy matches including five centuries (314 not out was his highest) to anchor Gujarat’s maiden title march. He also led the overall run-scoring charts. It was important to start the new season brightly. The 27-year-old has done that.
During an Indian Express profile of the cricketer last year, Panchal, a postgraduate in financial management from Gujarat University, had spoken about his love for reading and writing; that he jotted down his thoughts and feelings regularly in his diary. Funnily, after a cracking domestic season, he highlighted his errors.
“I was committing myself on the front foot a little too early against left-arm spinners, especially to deliveries at half-volley length. It needed to be rectified. So I wrote it in my diary. I usually don’t like to look at the past. Every new season is a new challenge. My journey as a cricketer is about following a process and it’s essential to learn from the mistakes,” Panchal says, speaking to this paper on Monday.
The ongoing Duleep Trophy is his first experience in pink-ball cricket, but before coming to the immediate present, a bit of close season recap is necessary.
On the face of it, not getting an IPL contract after such a fantastic Ranji season was a disappointment. But Panchal puts things in perspective. “Like the Ranji Trophy and other domestic tournaments, the IPL is another platform (for a player) to get into the Indian team. Hardik Pandya’s progress is an example; the way his IPL performance took him to the ODIs and then he graduated to Test cricket. Any young player would like to play in the IPL. But there’s no point in brooding over the lack of opportunity. You have to make the other platforms count. There’s no point in changing your game either.”
If the last season saw his rise to prominence, this term would be about building on the success. “I feel no extra burden this season. It’s a clean slate. Of course, you will have more responsibility and there will be certain expectations, but it’s important to start afresh and stay relaxed. I’m not putting any pressure on myself,” Panchal says.
Does that mean there’s absolutely no change at all, from 2016-17 to this term? “No change as a cricketer, because the game will always be about doing the basics right. Ups and downs will be part of it. But it’s important to grow as an individual from one season to the next. You pick up the pieces along the way and make a positive use of those in life. You gradually become a more well-rounded person,” Panchal explains.
India ‘A’ was a natural progression, but he missed the South Africa tour because of dengue. Panchal took the setback in his stride and wrote in his diary about how he should have been more careful regarding his health. “I didn’t see it as a misfortune. I thought I should have been more careful. India ‘A’ would have been a good learning experience, because more than anything else it’s a step forward in intensity level. At every level, basics remain the same. The level of intensity increases. You also face different pressure situations and get toughened as a cricketer. But I don’t think about India ‘A’ and/or the senior team. My job is to go out there and score runs. That’s what I need to focus on.”
Panchal has been picked to play two four-day matches against the touring New Zealand ‘A’ side later this month.
Coming back to the Duleep Trophy and pink-ball cricket, the opener described it as fascinating. “It’s excellent. I don’t have any problems in terms of visibility. In fact, I don’t see any difference between a white Kookaburra and its pink counterpart. They are keeping grass on the wicket and the pink ball is holding up pretty well. I think the pink ball’s longevity depends on the conditions and also the way batters are playing.”