RANJI TROPHY, 2017-18
Pandey will hope to use the current domestic season to stake his claim for an India berth once more © Getty
Manish Pandey received the loudest reception when he walked out to bat for Karnataka in their Ranji Trophy clash against Delhi at KSCA Cricket (2) Ground in Alur on Thursday (November 9). It was an indication of how much he has grown as a cricketer even without getting consistent game time for the national side.
With chief selector MSK Prasad in attendance, all eyes were on Pandey, who was returning to domestic cricket after being in and out of India’s limited-overs teams in the recent past. It was also Pandey’s first four-day game in almost a year. He started in typical fashion – scrappy. He was all over the place while facing left-arm spinner Vikas Mishra, but a couple of singles against the pace of Navdeep Saini helped soothe the nerves and Pandey was charging down to the spinner in the very next over.
“It is a completely different game, it is a one-day game and a T20, completely different format here I had more time to settle myself in and play my shots as they came. I looked good but it will be important for me to continue like this,” Pandey said after day’s play.
What stood out in Pandey’s innings was the ease with which he countered everything that was thrown at him after the initial jitters. Vikas Tokas tried to unsettle him with some short stuff, but Pandey handled it in his own unique manner – pulling through midwicket with his back leg in the air. He was also not afraid to take the aerial route against the pacers, carving a delectable straight six off Saini. Pandey eventually fell after nicking to the ‘keeper for 74. A century was there for the taking, but the 28-year-old squandered the chance of making a statement – something he has been guilty of doing in India colours too.
The journey of Pandey the India player has been sinusoidal. When he scored an unbeaten 104 and helped India chase down 330 during their 2016 tour of Australia, it was believed that the player with immense talent had finally announced himself on the world stage. Fast forward to nine months, Pandey was once more a fringe player because the series against New Zealand was mediocre. A series in which he started at number 4 and ended it batting at 6 and 5.
India then tried a variety of options at number 4, Dhoni held it for a while before Yuvraj staked claim till his poor outings in West Indies. KL Rahul was also backed for that position during the Sri Lanka tour, only for it to be handed back to Pandey in the Australia series because of the amount of runs he scored during India A’s tour of South Africa.
Pandey batted twice at four in the Australia ODIs and didn’t impress and had to be held back in match situations where the think-tank preferred to push Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav ahead in the following games. Though he did reasonably well batting lower down the order, he lost his place in the side to Dinesh Karthik during the recently concluded New Zealand series.
“I just didn’t think about anything else, it was just Karnataka and playing this Ranji Trophy game. Not about playing international, all the memories before. It is a little difficult to adapt, but we have done this, I have personally done it in all these years. It is part of the game. Team wants you to play at number 4, 5 or 6 and if that happens, it is important to stay focused, keep getting those runs and wait for the call-up,” added Pandey.
When in full flow, there are very few batsmen that measure up to the skill of Pandey. But that spectacle has been far and less when he dons the India jersey. The ongoing domestic season presents him with an opportunity to push harder in his quest to cement a fixed position in the batting order.