The 18th of February this year saw India take on South Africa at Jo’burg for the 3-match series opener.
This also gave an opportunity for India’s middle-order batsman, Manish Pandey, a chance to feature in the Indian XI after painfully having to sit out on the 6-match ODI series prior to the T20Is.
In a team having an affinity for a multi-dimensional player,i.e., spinners having the ability to hold the bat, batsmen having the ability to bowl, breaking into the Indian XI with the sole ability of batting and gun fielding became difficult for Karnataka’s premier batsman.
Blast from the Past
Previously, during the ODI/T20I series against Australia, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka, Pandey made sporadic appearances for India with the bat.
In fact, since the Australian series, either Pandey hasn’t had the opportunity for an outing due to the form of the great Indian top 3 featuring Rohit Sharma Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli.
Or, he has remained unbeaten, hitting the finishing runs or witnessing a win from the other end with nothing much to do. Interestingly, Pandey remained unbeaten or finished the game for his side on 8 occasions, most by any Indian player in the limited-overs format.
In recent times, Ravi Shastri and co. did not provide Pandey with a regular place in the limited overs format. Whenever he has been provided with an opportunity, Pandey delivered for his side.
The ongoing number four experimentation within the Indian team has hit Manish Pandey the hardest. Pandey took over the well established Rahane from the number 4 position in the Indian side back in 2015.
The number four conundrum
The KKR star smashed a sensational century in a run chase during the Sydney ODI. A couple of years down the line, when Australians visited India for 5-ODIs and 3-T20I series, Pandey was just given one game at the number four spot.
The promotion of Hardik Pandya at the no. 4 position for his breakthrough series meant that Pandey had to be pushed further down the order.
After featuring in all the eight matches held in the Indo-Australian series, Pandey featured in only one of 6 games against New Zealand.
During this phase, the likes of Kedar Jadhav and Dinesh Karthik had been trusted at the number four position. In the subsequent Sri Lankan series, Shreyas Iyer occupied the position ahead of Manish.
With rest provided to some key players ahead of the South African series, Pandey got an opportunity lower down the order in the ODI and T20I leg of the Lankan series in December last year.
The South African memory
Which brings us to February this year. The clock circled back magically, as the Indian management brought back their lost faith on Ajinkya Rahane and his abilities on foreign soil. Virat Kohli and co. became vocal about Rahane’s place in the Indian number 4 position, especially after his gutsy knock at Jo’Burg.
Maybe, it was the guilt factor for making Rahane sit out of the opening two Test against South Africa to accommodate Rohit Sharma-flop show, forced Kohli to include him in the XI.
It was Manish Pandey, yet again who had to warm the benches for India for the ODIs against South Africa, the same place where he smashed the first IPL century by an Indian back in 2009, when he was a U19 star at par with the likes of Kohli’s and the Jadeja’s. The trio were a part of the famous U19 World Cup Triumph in Kuala Lumpur back in 2008.
The Centurion turnaround
An 80-odd at Durban ensured Rahane a berth in the Indian squad in all 6-matches of the series.
The stakes were high with Pandey taking the strike at Jo’Burg, given the situation in the past 6 months. An untimely sluggish knock of 29 in a high scoring game meant masses began mocking his big hitting skills.
However, taking sweet memories from the ground from where he scored that magical ton against Deccan Chargers while representing RCB, he smashed a match-defining 79* with a partnership with MS Dhoni.
“Honestly, it is a little tough. It works on your mind a lot. Especially this tour I felt a lot actually. I had to see a doctor also because of that. You have to wait for your chances, especially to play for a team like India where you have all-stars and legends after legends. So you have to be patient and try my bit there,” revealed a distressed yet relieved Pandey in the post-match presentation.
Since Jo’Burg T20I
Since then, he never looked back as he relished every opportunity he had for the team in the Cap Town T20I and subsequent Nidahas Trophy.
Tracing back from the Australian series back in September, Manish Pandey amassed 400 runs in the limited opportunities he was provided, in both T20Is and ODIs for India. Manish Pandey averages 44.4 in all the outings he has had ever since last year’s home season.
After the Jo’Burg T20I, the now Sunrisers Hyderabad batsman has averaged 113.5 coming at the number 5 position, proving once and for all what a long run can do to a player like him.
The 227 runs he scored since getting an opportunity at Jo’Burg came at a heavy strike rate of 133.5. This, if nothing else, tells us that Manish Pandey definitely has staked his claim for the number 5 position, at least in the T20Is.
But that said, with the merry-go-round policy within the Indian side, Pandey would have his task cut out to retain his number 4 position for the World Cup in England.