India's fast bowling department has resembled musical chairs of late, changes forced by injuries or poor form. And Madhya Pradesh seamer Ishwar Pandey is the new name that has come into reckoning. There have been quite a few fast bowlers who have burst onto the scene like him this season. While some have found it difficult to sustain their performances, many have gone into oblivion.
However, a seamer who has emerged as the highest wicket-taker in Ranji Trophy is bound to raise hope and is also likely to be thrust into the limelight. Pandey is enjoying such a period.
Having bagged a phenomenal 48 wickets at an average of 21.05 this season, the 23-year-old has seen his stocks rise quicker than he would have imagined. Once he wrapped up his Ranji engagements, he was quickly snapped up by Indian Premier League franchise, Pune Warriors India. He played for India 'A' against England and has now been named in the Rest of India squad that will take on Ranji champions Mumbai in the Irani Cup from Feb 6.
But five years ago, Pandey would not have envisioned that he would reach this far in such a short time. The right-arm pacer was initiated into cricket only when he was a 17-year-old college student.
“In the last two years I have done well and it was mainly because of my stint at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai. I worked a lot on my fitness, which has made me stronger and helped improve my pace,” says Pandey. He was pushed into the strike bowler's role for MP after their main bowler, TP Sudhindra, was banned over spot-fixing last season. Growing up in Rewa in eastern Madhya Pradesh, Pandey, like many starry-eyed youngsters, wanted to play cricket. But his father, a retired army subedar, wanted him to pursue studies. And it wasn't easy to convince the senior Pandey.
“There wasn't much support from the family,” he recounts. “Being the elder of his two sons, my father wanted me to do well academically.”
There has been no looking back for Pandey since his university days. He broke through the under-19 ranks quickly and caught the eye of coach Mukesh Sahni. He played in the U-22 team before making his Ranji debut in 2010. This season has been a breakthrough and Pandey is hoping it would lead to him wearing the India colours.