Manish Pandey: A raw talent then, a seasoned campaigner now

Although eight long years have passed, it seems like it was just yesterday when a 19-year-old Manish Pandey announced his arrival on the big stage. And he did that with a scintillating IPL century against the Deccan Chargers at Centurion.

Moreover, the fact that it was the first ever century scored by an Indian in the IPL and also the highest T20 score by an Indian back then, made the feat even more special. Although that innings of 114 didn’t push him straight into the Indian national team’s ranks, it did put him under the spotlight for sure.

Everyone labelled the talented Karnataka lad as a future star. However, little did anyone know that he would have to wait six long years after that thunderous innings to earn his maiden India cap, which eventually came in July 2015.

An inconsistent batsman to a consistent performer

Although Pandey began his IPL career with a one-year stint at the Mumbai Indians, his moment of fame came during his two-year stint with the Royal Challengers Bangalore. It was his innings of 114* for RCB in 2009 that put him straight into the limelight.

It was then followed by a quite three-year stint with the Pune Warriors India as he produced hardly anything that could prove he had become a national team material.

His real break came after he joined the Kolkata Knight Riders franchise in 2014. A match winning innings of 94 on the night of the final and some other pivotal knocks in the league stages proved that the talented Karnataka batsman had come of age finally.

For those who haven’t followed Pandey closely over the years, statistics of 2182 runs at an average of 28.33 and strike rate of 120.48 in 102 IPL matches give a fair idea about his consistency as a batsman in T20s.

Barring the year 2009, when he averaged a mammoth 84.00 in 5 IPL matches due to his record-breaking innings of 114*, Pandey averaged in the decent 20s for four straight years till 2013.

He started maturing as a limited overs batsman only from the onset of the 2014 season with the KKR franchise. At the end of their title-winning campaign, his total aggregation was 401 runs at an average of 30.84 and a strike rate of 117.94 in 16 matches.

Since then, he became a vital cog in the Knight Riders’ batting line-up and has continued to be the mainstay of their middle order even today.

Maiden India Call up

His sublime form dipped again in the 2015 edition of IPL in which he scored only 225 runs in 13 matches at a mere average of 20.45. However, that didn’t stop him from making his ODI debut for India, just after the end of IPL that year in July against Zimbabwe.

He didn’t let the selectors down as he scored a fifty on his debut and stitched together a crucial partnership of 144 runs for the fifth wicket along with Kedar Jadhav. That innings turned out to be enough for him to cement his place as a back-up for the first team Indian players.

Moreover, he continued his good work in the domestic circuit as he piled up heaps of runs for Karnataka in that period. He issued such a statement with his domestic form that the selectors couldn’t ignore him and kept giving him opportunities whenever possible

His athletic and acrobatic fielding was another reason for him being considered for the limited overs squad.

Pandey’s moment of fame finally arrived

Time and destiny have a unique way of unfolding things. No matter how much one works hard, it won’t pay off until it is the right time and it is destined to be.

Similar had been the case with Pandey as his real break came six months after his international debut. It was the last match of the CB series 2015 and India were desperately trying to avoid a whitewash against the Aussies, who were leading the series 4-0.

A whitewash looked inevitable for India when they were asked to chase down a total of 331.

However, it was Manish Pandey’s time to shine as he got India home safely with an unbeaten 104(81) with two balls to spare. He took adversity in his stride like a champion and overcame all the odds to register another famous victory down-under.

Pandey continued his good IPL run

In spite of that memorable knock, Pandey wasn’t named in any of the squads for the T20I series that India played in the lead-up to the World T20 2016. However, he was brought in to replace Yuvraj Singh in the semi-final but didn’t get the opportunity to bat.

Though he didn’t get a place in the national Test side in the season that followed, that didn’t stop him from continuing his good work in the IPL.

He averaged 31.00 with the bat in the 2016 edition at a much-improved strike rate of 135.51 and has continued the same in the ongoing edition, having scored 363 runs in 13 matches at an outstanding average of 51.85.

Transformation into a seasoned campaigner

The main highlight of his batting in this edition has been his ability to play the anchoring role. He has won his team a couple of matches single-handedly and that has caught the attention of the selectors.

He was seen at his best when he helped his team to a score of 178 with an unbeaten knock of 81(47) against the Mumbai Indians earlier in the tournament. Though the Knights couldn’t win the match, it brought Pandey’s improved temperament as a middle order batsman to the fore. He paced his innings beautifully after his side lost early wickets.

He again showed his sense of responsibility as a batsman when he powered KKR to a four-wicket victory over the Delhi Daredevils with an unbeaten 69(49).

Pandey has played many more of such responsible 30s and 40s in this edition that have proved he is not anymore the lad with immense talent and potential. He has now become a seasoned campaigner with lots of experience.

Moreover, the selectors have acknowledged that by selecting him in the 15-man squad for the Champions Trophy. Pandey will have his sights firmly set on cementing a place for himself in the first team with match-winning performances.

(This article first appeared on Sportskeeda on April 13, 2017)

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