The newest face in the Indian team, right-arm medium-pacer Pankaj Singh, was the most sought after in this small town in southeastern Rajasthan.
The Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation tents, where Rajasthan team was put up for their Ranji Trophy game against Mumbai wore a festive look on Wednesday. The 6-ft, 5-inch Pankaj was the toast of the evening, fireworks lighting up the sky in his honour, drums and dances by his team-mates around a bonfire celebrating his first selection into the Indian team for Australia. "It is a dream I had since childhood to be selected for the country, and I have achieved it," Pankaj, with garlands around his neck, told Hindustan Times.
"I hope to do well and cement my place in the team. And doing well against Australia is the biggest opportunity to stay in the Indian team," he said.
Born in Sultanpur near Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, Pankaj had nearly given up cricket when he was not selected for Oudh University after good performances for his college. "Coming from a rural area, it was difficult to play cricket. And when I was performing well for my college, I was not selected for my university," the 22-year-old said. "I was depressed that I wanted to take up an academic career and earn money. It was around this time that I contemplated joining Army.
"I was with the Signal Corps in Lucknow for a week, playing volleyball. But I did not continue there, as I wanted to play cricket, and only cricket.
Hailing from Uttar Pradesh and playing for Rajasthan landed him in trouble. "Questions were raised about me playing for Rajasthan. I was not selected. That's when Vinod Mathur and Rungta Sir of the Rajasthan Cricket Association helped me out. I got my college admission done in Jaipur to play cricket."