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Pankaj Singh: 2010-12 a ‘golden era’ for Rajasthan cricket


In a months’ time, exactly 10 years will have passed since Rajasthan’s ascent to the top of the throne in the Ranji Trophy for the second time in two years. Under the leadership of Hrishikesh Kanitkar and aided by other professionals in Aakash Chopra and R. R. Parida, Rajasthan went through two glorious seasons – winning the title for the first time in 2010-11 and then defending it in 2011-12. 

Yet, the significance of the period in Rajasthan’s cricket doesn’t lie with domestic success alone. Several excellent fast bowlers were honed during that period, and two of them from that team – Pankaj Singh and Deepak Chahar – went on to play for India. Chahar and Rituraj Singh embarked on a successful domestic journey and are still playing for their State. 

Pankaj, who retired from all cricket earlier this year, is now fully involved in running his cricket academy at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium premises. He sees those two years as the result of many things coming together – talent, infrastructure, and coaching. Reflecting on what he terms as a “golden era,” Pankaj reflects on Rajasthan’s success and underlines the importance of developing a good “culture” for the State’s sustained prosperity in a chat with Sportstar

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Q. Were 2010-11 and 2011-12 the best two years for Rajasthan cricket? 

A- As a team, those are the best two seasons for Rajasthan cricket.  

The players who played well and who were part of the team during those seasons also did well in the future, including myself and Deepak Chahar. That was the time when Deepak, Aniket [Choudhary], Rituraj [Singh] started their careers- that was the time when an excellent fast-bowling unit was formed. The players gained the belief that they could play for their country and win the Ranji Trophy title, that we are equal to the best players and can play for the Indian team.

 

The players who played well and who were part of the team during those seasons also did well in the future, including myself and Deepak Chahar (in pic), said Pankaj singh.   –  Rohit Jain Paras

Robin Bist was at his peak then, and later, Vineet Saxena was at his best, too, around the same time. That was the best era for Rajasthan Cricket Association. Not only did it win the title, but it also generated excellent players, and a belief in their abilities was created by players in the group. 

How much did Rajasthan gain from the professional players? 

The players gained a lot from the professional players – be it learning how to bat from Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Aakash Chopra, or learning how to handle the pressure from R. R. Parida. Our coach Amit Asawa built a good team.  

Asawa worked with Rajasthan for many years and improved its stature in domestic cricket. Our administration at the time was keen for the team to improve and win because hiring such big players and managing them is also a big task. Having them for three to four years is not an easy task for any management of any State. I believe the administration did a lot to help form a good team at the time. 

That was the time when Rajasthan’s fast bowling started to make waves as a unit.  

I believe developing a good culture should be created for success. No player should believe they can’t do better than any other player. However, there shouldn’t be disrespect. There should be respect but no fear. That environment was created by our professionals, coaches and management. That was the reason we won, and players groomed at the time are still serving their State and have played for their country, too.

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Can you talk about the role of the administration? After all, it developed the infrastructure and brought in Greg Chappell. 

The administration during that era did not disturb cricket. Lalit Modi brought in Greg Chappell and got Rajasthan a great infrastructure. It invested a lot in coaching as well.  

The management changed, but the new administration didn’t tamper with the old course. What usually happens is when a new administration team comes in, it goes in the opposite direction to its predecessor. Fortunately, that didn’t happen in Rajasthan during that period of six-eight years. 

What new did Greg Chappell bring to the table? 

When you’re talking to legends like Greg Chappell regularly, the hesitation and fear among players disappear. You have an inferiority complex as well, but it disappears since you’re surrounded by players and coaches who are the best in the world. 

Also, the culture of equality came in where performances mattered, and seniority didn’t matter. Respect sometimes turns into fear; as I said, there should be respect but no fear. In foreign lands, sometimes there is no respect. I believe respect should be there – it’s our culture, and we won’t leave that. They have their own culture, we have our own. But the good thing there is – you have the freedom to speak and convey what you believe and what your problems are. This is what we learnt from Chappell – work ethic, punctuality, a goal-oriented mindset, a focus on performance and not reputation. 

More than inculcating the skills, what he developed in terms of culture and mentality was important.  

The presence of an IPL team – Rajasthan Royals – would also have made an impact. 

The IPL has made an impact everywhere in the country. You’re able to share the dressing room with the best players in the world and train under some of the world’s best coaches. The IPL has a huge role in changing the “culture,” but there are only four or five players from the State. But here, we were giving opportunities for a great number of cricketers from the grassroots.  

Those who were still teenagers were being able to talk to Kanitkar and Chappell – sitting with them, having dinner with them. That’s a big thing. They observe small things like being on time and staying back for a chat, and they get the opportunity to ask questions, too, from them. 

So the involvement of people like Chappell and Gary Kirsten impact many more players than the IPL. 

Finally, there is a relatively new administration at the RCA, with Vaibhav Gehlot as its president (Gehlot was elected in October 2019) and a new stadium in Delhi-Jaipur road is being built. How do you see the near future for Rajasthan’s cricket? 

Getting a new stadium and new facilities is a big thing. It is a huge financial affair, and it will positively impact the players. But at the same time, I also wish to see a good culture being developed and cricket in the grassroots being cared for. 

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