Pandey moves on to right track

Pandey moves on to right track

Karnataka batsman's brisk 94 in the IPL final carries plenty of good signs

Pandey moves on to right track

Just over five years ago, during the second edition of the Indian Premier League (2009) in South Africa, Manish Pandey stole the march over his then Royal Challengers Bangalore team-mate, Virat Kohli, by becoming the first Indian to score a century in the cash-rich T20 league.

His more significant IPL knock, a 50-ball 94 on Sunday night against Kings XI Punjab, helped Kolkata Knight Riders lift their second IPL title and reminded everyone of Pandey’s capabilities.

Part of India’s triumphant team in the 2008 under-19 World Cup in Malaysia, Pandey and Kohli’s careers have traversed in different directions since then; Kohli establishing himself as the best batsman in the country across all formats and heir apparent to skipper MS Dhoni and Pandey languishing on the fringe, belying his obvious talent and expert predictions.

A first-class average of just under 54 over six seasons does vouch for Pandey’s undoubted class.

A brilliant athlete and possessing a range of strokes in his repertoire, he was expected to make that big leap to the Indian team ahead of many of his contemporaries but the 24-year-old hasn’t managed to take that crucial step.

To be fair to him, there were quite a few things that worked against him at a critical stage when he appeared all set to break into the big league.

A groin injury in the 2011-12 season, when he had just cracked a double ton against Mumbai at the Wankhede, kept him out of action for nearly two months while the controversy over his decision to move to Pune Warriors in 2011 from Royal Challengers wasn’t an ideal situation to go into a high-intensity tournament.

His game suffered consequently and so did he. While Pandey’s performances in domestic first-class cricket continued to be excellent, his poor IPL outings made the selectors ignore his claim.

This is not to say only IPL showings are rewarded but it sort of lends legitimacy to a player’s case if he performs well in the high-profile T20 league to go with his domestic exploits. Pandey need not look beyond his State-mates Stuart Binny and Robin Uthappa to understand this.

After ending this Ranji Trophy with 729 runs, the second highest for Karnataka, this is the best IPL Pandey has had in seven years. With 401 runs, he is the second highest run-maker for Kolkata Knight Riders behind Uthappa (660) and his innings in the final has once again brought the spotlight back on him.

Karnataka batting coach J Arun Kumar, who has closely worked with Pandey, says he had seen it coming. “He is someone who needs to be constantly spoken to,” Arun told Deccan Herald.

“He is an instinctive player and he needs to stick to that. The problem with him sometimes is that he thinks too much about his game. He is someone bowlers are scared of so I used to tell him ‘you just to have to think about the conditions and play your game accordingly’. When he starts thinking too much he is not himself. I would rather prefer Manish get out early playing his natural game than get out after 100 trying to leave the ball. Because that’s not his game,” he explained.

The former Karnataka skipper gave his innings on Sunday as an example to drive home his point. “I think he was just enjoying his game last night. Even when wickets fell, he was hitting the next ball for six because it was there to be hit. That’s his game and that’s how he has made all his runs.”

Arun also felt players like Pandey need to be judged by their ability to win matches. “I think he should be given a chance (to play for India). I know he has got only two half-centuries this season but they (KKR) won both those matches (including the final). That’s what, as a coach, I look at – the match winners,” he reasoned.       

KKR skipper Gautam Gambhir’s views weren’t too dissimilar. “When we picked Pandey, we had a lot of faith and trust in him. He has delivered when it mattered the most," Gambhir said.

"Not many franchises would have continued with him because he had struggled with his form. But we always felt he had the talent and fearlessness to go out and play this kind of an innings.”

Now, if only Pandey can bring in some consistency, an India call-up may not be too far away.