How long can Manish Pandey last in the Indian T20 team? It’s a question that has been asked for a while now and he always comes up with knocks to silence the doubters. Then the chatter starts again.
The pressure is enormous. Pandey isn’t a power-hitter, he doesn’t bowl, isn’t a lower-order finisher or a destructor, and his game isn’t tight enough for him to pop up as a saviour after a flurry of wickets. The riotous cry for Suryakumar Yadav’s inclusion, even if unintended, heaps more pressure on Pandey. It’s harsh, but in the cut-throat world of top-level sport, he will be collateral damage that won’t trigger outrage.
And yet, contrary to perception, Pandey averages 44.31 in 39 T20Is. In the last two years, it has actually shot up to 57. He has floated all over the batting order. When one factors in his game, it’s remarkable how well he has adapted and continues to defeat stereotypes and pressure.
Technique all his own
Pandey is a quite an unconventional batsman. He likes to stay beside the line of the ball, get on to the leg side of it. Like a tennis player moving around so that she/he can play the forehand more. Pandey would constantly sidestep, get adjacent to the line rather than behind it – and look to tap, chop, punch to the off.
It’s also the reason why he doesn’t give an air of assurance even when he gets the job done. That movement also allows him to pull back-of-length deliveries on the off through mid-on. A busy player, with an urge to constantly keep the scoreboard ticking.
Burden of seniority
The pressure on Pandey is interesting, and was detailed well by former New Zealand bowler Simon Doull on air during IPL. Doull talked about how Pandey has to dwell on the fact that he comes good for India, but is not as successful for Sunrisers Hyderabad where he is expected to perform as a senior player. Doull explained it as pressure of being one of the key players in IPL team, which hinders him. For India, Pandey isn’t one of the senior players, but steps up. It is an interesting line of thought – and makes one wonder how Pandey will now handle the pressure that has fallen on him even in the Indian team atmosphere. At 31, with the likes of Suryakumar in the wings, he will now be expected to perform as a senior player.
He came out at No. 5 behind Sanju Samson in the first T20I on Friday, scored 2 off 8 balls, and disappeared. It won’t be a surprise if Hardik Pandya is sent ahead of him in the matches to come, if he doesn’t perform.
In January this year, Pandey spoke about the pressure on him. “Competition here is too tough, and I’ve got to make my place, have to squeeze in. So even if they give me No.6, I’m happy to take it.” With Rishabh Pant, Suryakumar, Shivam Dube and the rest waiting to get back in, he is in trouble. It has been this way for a while but has escalated now. “I have no choice (with the Indian role). I have to be good with it.”
What can a batsman like Pandey do in the lower order? At times, he can get just five to 10 balls. Even if he gets more deliveries to face, with Pandya and Jadeja – if he is in the XI – to come, he can’t even see himself as the last recognised batsman to manoeuvre the remainder of the innings. He better hit an outrageous cameo or be doomed.
“If you want to bat [at] 6, you have to be ready. The game is already set for you at No.6 and you just have to sometimes go and perform at the speed that the previous batsmen have set for you,” Pandey said.
This is where it gets tough for him. He isn’t a Kieron Pollard or Pandya who can come in, take five balls to ease in, and then explode in the handful of deliveries left to make a difference. Pandey batted at No. 5 on Friday but if the top order does its job, he will be more than likely pushed below Pandya and in Jadeja’s current form, even below him. It’s not that inconceivable to see him at No. 7.
Trouble in T20s
Robin Uthappa is someone who knows Pandey well, and has played for years in the same state and IPL teams.
“Nothing has come easy to him. That’s how his career has gone. He has had to work bloody hard to get where he is. More than anyone he will know the pressure he is in and is in a better position to handle it. He waited so many years to get in, and won’t give it away without a fight. Mind you, he has produced the goods consistently in T20s. From the outside, people might think his game isn’t suited for the lower order and what not, but he has performed,” Uthappa tells this newspaper.
Uthappa is confident that Pandey would do well in the ODIs but admits the T20 spot is in some jeopardy.
“Manish is someone who has cracked the ODI code in recent times. He now takes it to the end overs, has put a value on his wicket, doesn’t panic in match situations and throw it away as he knows he can make up later and take control. You will see him get more not-outs in ODIs – taking it to the end and hitting out in the last few overs. The young Manish would have perhaps gone for more shots right away, but the experienced version knows when to ace it up. He has always scored at a brisk pace, has unconventional shots like the pull over mid-on and can manoeuvre the ball.”
But Uthappa concedes that with the competition for places leading up to the T20 World Cup next year, the team will try out different contenders like Suryakumar and Sanju Samson with even Jadeja upgrading himself as a power-hitter these days.
“The fact that they retained him (Pandey) over other options is a show of confidence,” Uthappa says. “Which is very important to a player. You can’t breed insecurity. If a player knows he will be given a fair run, he will go in to the same situation with a different outlook. The same 10 balls will be dealt differently. But if he is made to feel as if his head was on the block, he will go for survival. It’s a huge difference,” says Uthappa.