These are interesting times to be an opening batsman in Indian cricket. The likes of Murali Vijay and KL Rahul are unlikely to get an extension after the Australia tour and the new combination of Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw look set to take over.But given that both are just about finding their feet in international cricket, the other opening batsmen in the domestic circuit are likely to be on their toes, waiting for a rare opening. One such opener who is silently making the right noises – again – is Gujarat captain Priyank Panchal.
Panchal has 887 runs in the ongoing Ranji Trophy from eight games, averaging 68.23 with four centuries and five half-centuries. He is third in the list of top run-scorers so far, with both batsmen above him – Milind Kumar and Puneet Bisht – being professionals playing in the Plate Group.
The ‘again’ in the earlier paragraph is because this isn’t the first time Panchal is having a dream run. Two seasons back, he helped Gujarat to their maiden title with a mammoth 1310 runs from 10 matches, falling just 105 runs shy of VVS Laxman’s record of most runs in a season.
A relatively quiet 2017-18 season later, where he scored 542 runs from seven matches at an average above 60, Panchal is back in the top layer.
Panchal, 28, has been playing first-class cricket since 2008 and attributes the newfound consistency to analysing his game extensively during times he failed.
“It was all about the mindset. I just wanted to score in each and every inning. That was the mindset I cultivated in 2016-17,” Panchal tells Cricketnext. “But it all actually started three-four years back when I was not scoring runs. I was trying to analyse my game.
“There were a lot of patterns in which I was getting out. At one point of time it was technical error, sometimes it was mental error. But I knew then that one day the result will come. I was just analysing and doing the work which reflected in 2016 season. This is what I like, to score runs. That’s the only thing I really like, and it’s pushing me.”
The ‘analysis’ and ‘mindset’ that Panchal speaks about aren’t mere clichés that cricketers mouth on an everyday basis. He has a special interest in psychology and seeks to understand not just his own mindset but also that of others around him.
Panchal is different from your regular cricketer; he’s a voracious reader and carries four different books during any tour. He even maintains a diary about his ‘cricketing and life journey’.
“I’m always curious to know something which interests me. Right now I have an interest to study about human minds and psychology,” he says. “I’m very much curious about knowing the likes of Elon Musk…just imagining what no one has ever imagined. He wants to put human beings on mars. These type of things motivate me, this thought process is completely out of the box thinking. I’m always curious to know about subjects like this which interest me.
“I’m not trying to study psychology (formally). But I read as many books as I can about psychology. It helps me in cricket and my life also. It’s very important to know yourself and other human minds also. If you know it, you can tackle situations and plan anything accordingly.
“Books about psychology help me a lot in leadership. On when to talk, what to talk. If someone is going through a downhill phase, what should I talk? That’s where psychology helps.”
While reading psychology helps his mindset, Panchal is also deeply interested in reading autobiographies of successful cricketers. He recently read the autobiographies of Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting as he wanted to know the mindset of a champion side. Now, he’s reading VVS Laxman’s autobiography.
“It helps me subconsciously,” he says. “Their experiences will help me a lot because practically, I’m going to face similar situations in my cricket journey. If I’m familiar with these situations, it’ll be easier for me to face them.”
Panchal has faced some tough situations himself. He lost his father when he was 15, but his mother and sister helped him pursue cricket. His mother even enrolled him in a ‘personality development programme’, an experience that “changed everything”.
“The sir there and his mother changed my life completely. They gave me a path where I can see how the whole world works, how the society works. That helped me,” he says.
Panchal will now wait to see if he can add to his tally this Ranji season; Gujarat have 26 points from eight matches in Group A and will need a lot of results to go their way to qualify for the knockouts. Panchal will also wait and see if better things are in store for him, given the changes at the top in the Indian batting order.
But perhaps it’s the experiences through the books, or maybe just a cliché from a cricketer trying to make it big, Panchal isn’t fretting about the uncontrollables.
“I want to play Test cricket. If I’m doing consistently, then I’ll get a chance,” he says. “I’ve prepared myself from the experience of domestic cricket and India A. These are the things in my control. I believe in destiny that one day my chance will come.”