Monday 17 January 2022
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Priyank Panchal who replaced Rohit Sharma for tests in South Africa

While a hamstring injury sustained by Rohit Sharma has paved way for a call-up for Priyank Panchal, few know the newbie in international cricket. He is but a batting heavyweight in the Indian domestic circuit.

Having recently played for India A in South Africa, where he notched up scores of 96, 24 and 0, 31-year-old Panchal was rewarded with a second call-up into the Indian Test squad. He was earlier part of India’s extended squad for the four-Test series against at home as a stand-by player.

To the uninitiated, Panchal is one of the best opening batsmen going around in the Indian domestic circuit. With a First- experience of 100 matches, Panchal has scored over 7000 runs including 24 centuries and 25 fifties, including a best of 314 not out, which he amassed against Punjab in a breakout 2016-17 Ranji Trophy season. It was the year when Panchal piled over 1300 runs, and ended as the leading run-getter in the tournament.

Besides being an opening batsman, Panchal is a handy right-arm medium-pacer, and although he has not more than 22 wickets to show for his efforts, he’s capable of delivering his team the odd breakthrough every now and then. Following his terrific heroics with the bat, leading Gujarat to their maiden Ranji Trophy title in 2016-17 season, Panchal followed it with another superlative show in the next season, finishing as the team’s leading run-getter with 542 runs from seven matches.

Panchal’s form saw no dip and his stocks skyrocketed. In the 2018-19 Ranji trophy, Panchal scored 898 runs in nine matches and another 367 runs from eight matches in the Vijay Hazare Trophy that year. Before he embarked on the tour of South Africa, Panchal was among the runs in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy as well, putting up scores of 134 against Maharashtra, 66 against Kerala and an unbeaten 43 against Railways.

As part of India A, Panchal has worked closely with current head coach Rahul Dravid. During their tour of New Zealand in 2020, Panchal hit a century against New Zealand A at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch, a knock that often isn’t talked about as much since Shubman Gill scored a cracking double century in the same game. Panchal has ticked most of the boxes en route to knocking the doors of the selectors. Since the 2016-17 season, Panchal holds the record for making the most runs by any batsman in first- matches in India.

When India A played against Sri Lanka at home in 2019, Panchal scored 160. But probably one of Panchal’s finest knocks of all time arrived when India A travelled to West Indies the same year. In the second unofficial Test at Port of Spain, on a day when 19 wickets fell, Panchal stood out with a gritty 58 in the first innings and 68 in the second. As India A won the match, Panchal was justifiably named the Player of the Match.

With Rohit out, Panchal will be the third specialist opener in the squad after KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal, and with a three-Test series up for grabs, who knows, by the time the Indian team returns, he could have made an India debut, quite possibly a memorable one.

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