A moment loaded with symbolism and soaked with meaning occurred on the Harare Sports Club pitch soon after Manoj Tiwary exited the field. Tiwary had been dismissed for 10, his third low score of his return series. And what was even more inexcusable was the fact that he had been dismissed by Prosper Utseya. An Utseya who has been banned from bowling his off-break by the ICC; an Utseya who was trying to cut the ball at 90 kmph from a spinner’s run-up instead.
Anyway, as Tiwary crossed the boundary rope, helmeted head hanging in guilt, debutant Manish Pandey sprightly entered his first international ground as an international player. And the said symbolic moment materialised as he reached the pitch and punched gloves with long time state team-mate, Robin Uthappa.
In that present, Karnataka’s future had finally caught up with Karnataka’s past. And it wouldn’t take long for one to pull away from the other.
Nine years ago on a sunny day in Indore, a 20-year old Uthappa — saddled with the great expectation of carrying forward Karnataka’s great batting legacy — cracked 86 runs against England on debut. It was (and still is) an Indian debutant’s highest ODI score.Having proved his worth in his very first appearance, Uthappa could’ve slowly eased off that saddle over time. But he let it get heavier. So heavy that he never scored as many runs in an innings again.
Before he was dropped in 2008, Uthappa’s problem seemed to lie in his temperament, something he has accepted rather publicly. On Tuesday, though, temperament didn’t seem to be a problem for the 30-year old.
Uthappa was promoted to number three and showed ample patience after reaching the crease. But in cricket, especially short format cricket, patience can win you battles but not the war. Uthappa won a few early battles and got himself to a watchful start. And then on 31, he frustratingly threw it away.
When Uthappa left the field, India were 82/4. At one end was a debutant, batting on six. And at the other was Kedar Jadhav, who hadn’t crossed 20 in each of his previous three and only three international innings. The state-of-affairs hung on the shoulders of players with the sum total experience of five internationals, inclusive of the two games that were added to their combined belt on Tuesday.
They cut starkly different figures in the middle. Pandey looked assured and played crisp, delightful strokes. Jadhav looked tight and was initially streaky. Experiencing failure, after all, is far worse than experiencing nothing at all. But boy did the pair get the job done in their 144-run fifth wicket stand. 144 — always a good omen for Pandey. But more on that in a bit.
That stand was the difference between the two sides. Big difference. Like in the second ODI, Chamu Chibhabha was the only batsman worth reporting back about. Like his 72 on Sunday, Chibhabha’s 82 got Zimbabwe to just 193 — making their loss margin in this series progress arithmetically. Four runs short in the first match, 62 in the second and 83 on Tuesday.
Back to Pandey, then. And the omen of 144. In 2010, Pandey had played one of the greatest domestic knocks in one of the greatest Ranji Trophy finals, against Mumbai in Mysore. His 144 runs in the fourth innings had put Karnataka on the brink of chasing down Mumbai’s 338, only to devastatingly fall short by six measly runs. That innings had come at the back of his famous IPL century in 2009, when Pandey, at 19, became the first Indian to score a hundred in T20s.
Since both those knocks, great things were expected from this army officer’s son. But the India call never came. Five years he had to wait, a time in which he saw his state junior Lokesh Rahul making it to the Test side and state senior Uthappa being recalled to the one-day side. His phone call remained elusive.
When it did come, in November last year for a T20 against the West Indies, the tour itself was cancelled by the rebels from the Caribbean. So you’ll forgive him if he says that he was pretty cut-throat in his approach in his maiden international appearance.
It didn’t take him long to get off the mark. First ball, as Utseya drifted in whatever he thinks he bowls, Pandey tucked it away towards midwicket for two. Then, after staying quiet for a bit, and while still on 13, he launched Hamilton Masakadza for a six straight over his head. And that was it. Pandey’s engine was off and running nicely.
Jadhav’s engine though was cold and spluttering black smoke. The 30-year old from Maharashtra (whose hairline seems to have reduced considerably between his first ODI in November last year and second ODI on this tour) was batting quite like the mop on his head — patchy. He nicked and weaved and nurdled his way to 41 by the 41st over, where he couldn’t get hold of a Graeme Cremer bouncer (Cremer is a leggie, just by the way) outside off-stump and spooned the simplest of catches to captain Elton Chigumbura at point.
Only, Chigumbura dropped what former Zimbabwe captain Alistair Campbell thought was the ‘worst drop in the history of mankind.’ It truly was harder to drop the ball than latch on to it. But Chigumbura did the impossible and Jadhav achieved what seemed impossible going by his form on this tour — his maiden century, nine overs later.
Still, the knock of the day belonged to the debutant, despite him falling 29 runs short of the three-figure mark. He was cool and composed, collected and careful, pacing his innings like a pro. And the shot of the day came from his blade, when he stood high on his toes and handsomely cut Donald Tiripano past backward point for four. It brought up a fifty that he won’t forget in a hurry.
Pandey will be the first to tell you that the hundred was there for the taking. But on 71 — which is no mean feat by itself, considering it is the second highest ODI score on debut away from home (behind only state-mate Brijesh Patel’s 84 in Manchester ’74) — Pandey played his first loose stroke of the day, a poke to long-on, and paid the ultimate price.
In hindsight, though, it might just be a good thing that he didn’t become India’s first centurion on ODI debut. There’s just way too much expectation after that. Just ask Uthappa, still the man with India’s highest score in a maiden ODI appearance.
Brief scores: India 276/5 in 50 overs (K Jadhav 105 n.o, M Pandey 71, N Madziva 2/59) beat Zimbabwe 193 all out in 42.4 overs (C Chibhabha 82,Stuart Binny 3/55)