A plastic bat, a concrete venue and a taped ball do not sound the ideal properties with which to launch a promising cricket career but they provided the foundations for one Abu Dhabi pupil.
Pankaj Samant became the first schoolboy cricketer to score a century in an Abu Dhabi Cricket Council-organised Division Two tournament, the UAE Exchange Centre Twenty20 Cup, last December.
The innings, against senior cricketers, of 128 from 71 deliveries by the 12th grade pupil from Abu Dhabi Indian School (ADIS) for the MCC-Zayed Cricket Academy can be traced back to the plastic bat his father brought him which he wielded to play taped-ball cricket in the backyards of Tremix, a concrete mixing company in Mussafah.
"I remember it well because that was the first bat that I held and was in my possession for a long time," Samant said.
"My father use to take me almost every evening to play cricket on a vacant area near his workplace, where he had formed a team to play taped-ball cricket.
"I watched them play and all of them would bowl at me to hit the ball around with my plastic bat."
Samant was born in Karnataka, India. He was two when his family moved to Abu Dhabi to join his father, Prakash, who has been employed in the UAE since 1989.
"I loved sport and had played volleyball for the college team," Prakash said. "But I never had the opportunity to pursue a career in it. So I provided it to my son. All I did was to encourage him. He enjoyed his cricket and what he is now is purely his perseverance."
Samant has been a prolific scorer in the Abu Dhabi interschool tournament and was one of the first intakes of pupils at the Abu Dhabi academy when it was established in 2005.
He was chosen for a week-long all paid training camp at the Sussex County Cricket Club in England last August.
Before that the top-order batsman and medium pace bowler was selected by the MRF pace foundation and attended a 10-day camp in Chennai, India.
"Pankaj has always shown promise since he arrived with the first batch of pupils at the academy," Qazi Ayub, the head coach of the MCC Zayed Cricket Academy, said.
"The first impression was his fielding. He will catch anything that is thrown at him, a hard shot or a high shot with utmost ease. His batting and bowling improved with time, and he is one of the most talented all-round cricketers at the academy."
Samant showed his innings late last year was no fluke when he scored 51 from 44 balls for the Emirates Cricket Board Blues in a Bukhatir League match against Fly Emirates at Sharjah last month. He has been an ECB regular since. "Pankaj should have played for the ECB earlier but now his potential as a young prospect is well advertised," Ayub said.
Samant's ambition is to play cricket in top-flight club competitions when he returns to India but Aaqib Javed, the UAE coach, will surely have plans for him short term when the country hosts the Under 19 World Cup in 2014.
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