Panchal gets call-up to India Test squad after 100 First-Class games

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At the start of this year, Priyank Panchal was one of the standbys for India’s home Test series against England. Even as the teams moved to his home city Ahmedabad for the last two Tests of the series, Panchal was released to play for Gujarat in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. On Monday, when he finally made it to the Indian Test squad proper for the tour of South Africa as the injury replacement for Rohit Sharma, Panchal was following a familiar routine.

Having returned home after leading India A in South Africa only days ago, he had an eye on the last round of Vijay Hazare Trophy group games to be played on Tuesday. The opener was keeping himself ready in case Gujarat make it to the knockouts.

The 31-year-old has long become used to operating like this. His breakthrough Ranji Trophy season of 2016-17 – 1,310 runs at an average of 87.33 – came five years ago. He would go on to become bit of a regular for India A, even leading the side a few times, but a call-up to the senior side remained elusive even after 100 first-class games since his debut in 2008 (He’d had a surprise taste of the Indian dressing room when he was called up as cover for the Nagpur Test against England, but that was way back in 2012).

“It is okay, it is part of my life. It is part of any cricketer’s life,” Panchal told The Indian Express. “There are so many players competing, so at times there used to be hope and at times not. But I would never ask people, ‘mera chance kab Banega?’ (when will my chance come?), because logically speaking, no one can have that answer. I would instead ask how I can improve my game.”

To this day, Panchal maintains the diary he has kept for years, filled with daily experiences and inspirational quotes and what he needs to do to realise his dream of playing for India.

“Consistency and persistence were the most important things for me. That is what I have learnt in my career as well as in my personal life. It is not an overnight process. And I knew that if I kept performing, someday I would get the chance.

“My family, my friends and my willingness to be in the Indian team – that was my driving force, that I have to play for India no matter what.”

Support and advice

His former Gujarat captain Parthiv Patel has been a constant source of encouragement. “Whenever I need something, Parthiv bhai is always there. He is the one who has helped me and all the Gujarat players a lot. I can call him any time. Also from the Gujarat team, Axar (Patel) is there, Jasprit (Bumrah) is there, I keep talking to them, they are all very welcoming.”

Panchal will be stepping into a somewhat familiar environment in the Indian dressing room, having spent plenty of time with head coach Rahul Dravid during his India A stints.

“I have seen how hard Rahul sir would train at the NCA [National Cricket Academy] during my Under-15 days. I have followed him ever since I began my career. I have been lucky to have interacted with him while with India A.”

Panchal recalls a lesson from Dravid when he led India A for the first time, against Sri Lanka A in 2019. “I was very excited during training sessions, thinking that now that I am captain, I have to do this and do that. In excitement, you forget what you really want to do.

“So Rahul sir had told me, ‘Just be normal. You have it naturally within you, and that is why you have been given this job. You don’t need to change your game at all. Just follow your path, the way you have performed in domestic cricket all these years, just do that here.’ That really helped me. When he says something, you absorb it instantly as a cricketer, because it comes from someone who has had such a long cricketing journey and so much experience.”

The Gujarat opener is also hoping that his own experience with India A playing against near-international quality bowling – 1,089 runs in 14 games at 51.85 – will prove to be useful at the top level.

If they qualify for the Vijay Hazare knockouts, Gujarat will have to make do without their regular captain and leading batsman, for Panchal is heading back to South Africa again, and without an A suffix this time.

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