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    Pandey, Saxena aiming for next level

    Mumbai: When you put in a lot of effort and have wickets and runs to show then rewards come your way. Two players who are testament to this truism are the Madhya Pradesh pair of fast bowler Ishwar Pandey and allrounder Jalaj Saxena, who found themselves named in the Rest of India (ROI) squad to play current Ranji Trophy champions Mumbai from February 6 at the Wankhede Stadium.

    While Pandey was the leading wicket-taker in the Ranji Trophy with 48 wickets at 21.40, Saxena too has been instrumental for his side, scoring 791 at an average over 60 and picking up 17 wickets with his offspin. Being picked for ROI is the second recognition from the selectors, following the naming of Pandey and Saxena for this month's practice matches against the touring English team earlier this month.

    Pandey felt the opportunity was the result of the consistent effort he has put in over the last few seasons. "I have been with the MRF [Pace Academy, Chennai] for the last two years and the work that I had put in there helped me immensely in my bowling," he told Cricketnext.

    The 23-year-old right-arm pacer said he would try to do his best for ROI and his aim would be to do what he had done throughout the season. "It's a very good opportunity for me to show what I am capable of doing. My only aim will be to do the similar things that helped me getting so many wickets in the Ranji Trophy. I will try my best to repeat my performance."

    Pandey might be bowling on a Wankhede surface that provided a lot of assistance to the seamers in the Ranji Trophy final where Dhawal Kulkarni wreaked havoc, picking up nine wickets as Mumbai clobbered Saurashtra inside three days. Ahead of the big match, he was hopeful of getting a similar pitch so that he could get the maximum out of it. "It really helps if the wicket is supporting and we saw recently that the manner in which it [Wankhede wicket] helped the pace bowlers. Hopefully it remains the same," said Pandey.

    He also expressed his satisfaction that he has been signed by the IPL side Sahara Pune Warriors and getting the opportunity to work with Allan Donald, the team's bowling coach. "It has come for me as a very good chance. If you perform well in the IPL it opens more avenues for you. It helps you to grow as a bowler as you learn more variations in your bowling," he said. "Donald was a great bowler and I hope to learn a lot from him at Pune. His tips will help me to improve my bowling further."

    Saxena was understandably pleased at the ROI call-up as well as being named in the India A squad to face the touring Australians in a three-day match in Chennai ahead of the Test series. "It's been a great season for me and I am happy that I have been rewarded for that performance," he said. "The ROI match and India A game are two very good chances to showcase my talent. I want to take these opportunities with both hands and hope that they work well for me. I have worked very hard for the last few years, fine-tuning my batting technique and improving my bowling skills. The results I have got this season are everyone to see."

    Although Saxena is primarily a batsman, the focus on his offspin has added an additional dimension to his game. "Bowling is an important aspect of my game and I work a lot to improve that. It adds something more to my game," he said while conceding that opening the innings suits him best. "When I was asked to bat lower down, I did that comfortably, but I am ideally suited for batting in the top order, especially opening as it suits my game very well."