The wait to Indian team was a long one for Manish Pandey but the maiden hundred in a thrilling run chase brought India its solitary win in the five-match series against Australia and brought him to centre stage. He is part of the T20 squad for the three-match series against Sri Lanka that starts on Tuesday. In a chat with The Indian Express, Pandey talks about his hundred, his mindset before the game, his childhood dream of scoring a hundred, and the best message he received after his special knock.
It wasn’t certain how many games you would get in Australia. How did you deal with the uncertainty?
I was hoping to get games, with the way I was batting in practice games. Even Mahi bhai (MS Dhoni) told me later that I will be playing. Mentally I was ready for it, I had positive energy around me.
But you were dropped after first two games?
I didn’t bat in the first match and batted very late in the second game. Thoda sa ajeeb laga. (It felt a bit strange). The team management had a plan to go with extra batsman-bowler for the next two games. The team wanted to take that chance and had it worked out, things could have been different in the result point of view.
You were then back for the fifth game. What was your thought process coming to the ground that afternoon?
I was just thinking of all the good innings I have played till date. I was visualizing all the hundreds I have scored, from junior to senior cricket and IPL to Ranji games. I was just remembering those innings even when I get out from the team bus. I just wanted to get a good feeling before I go out to bat. I knew that I will be batting at number four as Ajinkya (Rahane) was injured. I have been playing at number four for a long time for Karnataka. So I knew how to pace and build my innings. The way I saw the first few balls of which I was getting ones and twos, I realized that the ground is mine now.
But this was an ODI against Australia in Australia. And Dhoni was struggling for timing at the start.
Mahi bhai may have been struggling a bit initially but even though the run-rate was increasing he kept telling me not to worry, and said, ‘hum log rehenge tab ho jayega’. Between overs we kept talking the same thing that we have to push it till late. Mahi bhai has been in such situations before, so he knows how to take the game till the end and then take it in India’s favour. One has to go with that mindset of hanging around and once you get those 40-50’s, I always ensure that I play a big innings.
How did you look so calm under so much pressure?
Probably, domestic cricket experience played a huge role in it. I didn’t want to do something different. Before my turn, Ravi bhai (Ravi Shastri) told me, ‘don’t do anything different here. Keep batting as you have been doing over the years.’ I told myself ke bus yeh tere state team jaise hai, bat as you bat for Karnataka. I just want it to look nice and easy.
You weren’t awestruck by the packed house in Australia?
I wasn’t awestruck, as I said it is very important to go with a clean thought process. I was just remembering my good days I had in the past; that feeling is very important. The ground, the dress and the ambience might have been different but the rest remains the same. I was just going to bat like any other day except the difference was it was an international game and in some other part of the world. My batting is simple and I don’t want to complicate it. Just face a few balls, set your eye in and if you think this ball can be hit than just go for it.
Weren’t you worried when Dhoni got out in the last over after hitting a six?
After that six I could see that no way we are going to lose from here. We all knew that we needed one hit and we got it from Mahi bhai. When he got out, there was not much difference left in the score, we needed two runs per ball. How could I slip this chance? I waited for this for so long. Then the four came and we knew that this game is in our hands.
Tell us about the moment you scored your maiden hundred
I have been dreaming of it since my junior days, that one day I will raise my hands with the helmet out and thousands will be applauding in a packed stadium. I have scored IPL hundreds and been part of many run chases but this was very very special. I got that boundary, I just remember that scene. What I had dreamt that morning, came through in the evening. So please dream. It comes true!
How was the atmosphere when you got back to dressing room?
Everybody was clapping, Ravi sir said, ‘well done, it was a magical to see you bat like that, it was a great innings’. Virat Kohli came and hugged and said, ‘I haven’t seen such kind of match winning innings after a long time’. Mahi bhai told, ‘keep learning from all these things’.
It’s been couple of weeks now. Has it sunk in yet?
It was a good feeling to comeback home after such a good tour. Especially with the way last game went for me. I just want to keep grounded and keep walking ahead.
Now the benchmark is set, wait is over. What next?
I want to focus on the Sri Lanka series. One game at a time, I want to perform and from there take it to the next level.
You were always rated very highly, you had your moments in IPL and domestic circuit. Was it tough not to get a break earlier?
There were moments earlier when I thought I will be picked but it didn’t happen. I have to return to domestic circuit and keep toiling. Time laga par aa toh gaya.
How was the buzz back home?
Bahut jyada kuch nahi hai,(not much!) By the time I reached, everything had eased out. Halka hogaya sab. Everybody was trying to call me after the hundred, my Whatsapp was full with messages. But the best message came from my mom and dad. It had just two things, “Well done and good night.” They know it was a big day but they didn’t want to gaga over it.