It’s hard to configure which bowler’s celebration Himachal Pradesh pacer Pankaj Jaswal, who nailed his maiden first-class five-for against Bengal, likes to impersonate. One moment, he’s furiously gnarling like Mitchell Johnson, the next he’s strolling with his index finger aloft like James Anderson. In another mood, he spreads both arms out from the side and runs down the pitch like Shoaib Akhtar. It’s the Akhtar frame that pulls his father, Pawan, into flashback mode.
Some 10 years ago, just when Pawan, a former wrestler, was sketching which akhada in Delhi he should enroll his 13-year-old son, the youngest of four, Pankaj came up a poster in his hand and told him: “I want to be a bowler like Akhtar. 160 kmph marna hain.” Forget the Pakistani tearaway, Pawan admittedly couldn’t even recognise most of the Indian cricketers around. He was furious, for he had begun weaving dreams of his making his son a wrestler, tore the poster and rebuked him: “Itna mehenat humne kyu kiya? Tujhe wrestler banane ke liye.”
It was just around the time Sushil Kumar had won bronze in the Beijing Olympics, and wrestling had suddenly become fashionable again, the akharas scattered in the Delhi suburbs brimming again.
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Pawan, though, had charted his son’s path much before. “As soon as he turned five, I started training him. I would wake him at 4 am and make him run several laps in the nearby park, climb the metro stairs some 50 times. I took him whenever I went to watch a dangal. I started to give him a wrestler’s diet, and he made him compete in age-group tournaments,” he recollects.
He would frequently day-dream of his son standing on the Olympic podium, and then an unfamiliar face from Pakistan with dishevelled, long hair was tearing his dream apart. But a few days later, he says, he started thinking like a father. “Until then I was thinking like a wrestler. Then I thought if I push him into a path he doesn’t like, he would forever carry that grouse, especially if he fails,” he says.
The next day, he took his son to a modest cricket academy in West Delhi, where the coach taught him the basics and referred him to Rajdeep Kalsi’s academy in Chandigarh a year later. Pankaj says the wrestling-basics come handy in cricket as well. “In wrestling, we’d observe the opponent’s foot work and figure out whether he’s in a defensive or attacking mindset. We look into his eyes to see whether he’s afraid of me. And then plot our moves accordingly. It’s more or less the same in cricket. It’s not just raw pace I work with, I closely observe their body language,” he says.
He’s in fact built like a wrestler too, maybe not the 130kg heavyweight his father had aspired him to become, but a middleweight marauder, with sturdy shoulders, muscular arms and robust calves. “I can maintain the same intensity throughout the day,” he says.
He struck Shreevats Goswami flush on his chest before stinging him with another sharply-rising delivery. The left-hander managed to sway his body away, but not his bat. “I could see fear in his eyes,” he says. In the morning, he had Abhimanyu Eeswaran writhing in pain, likewise.
On the second morning, he was howling in like the wind that kept slashing from the mountains. He was slightly perturbed after being taken off after just an over that conceded two boundaries. But he returned vindictively and brought the hosts back with two wickets in the space of two balls, a spell of unrelenting pace and intimidation. It’s different story that they let Bengal comeback into the match with outrageously sloppy fielding-two run-out chances were squandered and so was a catch. Then Aamir Gani and Ashok Dinda wielded the long handle to good use, and rattled out 58 runs in eight overs. Then departed Dinda and Pankaj was winding up for his third spell. His wait for this maiden five-wicket haul almost ended in the second over of the third tilt, only for the edge to filter through Ankush Bains’s gloves.
Up in the stands, his father began cussing Bains and cursing destiny. But a few moments later, he was up in joy, nearly doing an Akhtar encore his son was wheeling away in the middle. And with a wry smile, he adds. “Usse dekhe dekhe mein bhi Akhtar fan ban gaya.”
Brief Scores: 380 all out in 116.1 ovs (Manoj Tiwary 55, Anustup Majumdar 52; Pankaj Jaiswal 5/81) vs Himachal Pradesh 124/3 in 43 ovs (Ankush Bains 79 not out;Ashok Dinda 2/25)