In less than two months, he has made the cricketing pundits sit up and take notice, emphatically proving that there is more to him than a destroyer of bowling in Twenty20 cricket.
Until early November, the 20-year-old’s claim to fame was becoming the first, and thus far only, Indian to score a century in the Indian Premier League. Since then, he has stacked up three first-class hundreds in his first full season of Ranji Trophy cricket, and sits behind Ajinkya Rahane in the list of leading run-scorers this season.
To many, Pandey’s remarkable transformation from an all-out attacking batsman to a more controlled aggressor in such a short span has come as a huge surprise. “It is true that last year, I tried to hit every ball out of the park. I was a bit nervous in my first season,” Pandey admitted during a chat with Deccan Herald. “I was immature, and that showed in the manner in which I got out.
“Now, I am a more mature, more aware batsman. My first instinct is still to look for runs off every delivery, but now I watch the ball more closely and I play it according to its merit,” added the man with 738 runs already this season. “If it’s a bad ball, I try to put it away to the boundary. If not, I am happy working it for ones and twos; I am more selective these days.”
Between the two seasons, Pandey shot to fame with his century for the Royal Challengers in IPL II in South Africa. “That knock gave me a lot of confidence,” he agreed. “Also, lots of people spoke to me about my approach in the interim – coaches Viji (Bharadwaj) sir and Sanath (sir), and Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid. I haven’t had to make any technical adjustments. If anything, the mindset has changed; now, I focus on spending more time in the middle, and once you do that, the runs will automatically flow.
“Fortunately, I got off to an excellent start this year, on a lively track against a good Uttar Pradesh attack in Meerut. One of the goals the think-tank has set for batsmen is try and play 250 deliveries every innings. That was what I tried to do in Meerut, and it paid dividends.”
Since then, Pandey has gone from strength to strength, establishing himself as the most crucial cog in a very young Karnataka batting wheel. “There is plenty of good, healthy competition between us,” Pandey observed. “When each one of us scores, it makes the other more determined to score big runs too. And we are genuinely happy for each other, we enjoy each others’ success.
“A lot of us young batsmen have made our mark. We realised that we had come into the side ahead of some very experienced batsmen, and therefore it was our responsibility to rise to the occasion. It’s wonderful to see that so many batsmen have got 400 and 500 runs already this season.”
Pandey’s somewhat unorthodox approach makes it very difficult to set fields to him. “A lot of people have told me that I seem to have that additional time to play the ball,” he noted. “All I know is that I watch the ball very closely from the time the bowler starts to run in, and react accordingly. I also know that I can play every shot in the book, the trick is in playing the right stroke to the right ball.”
In Rahul Dravid’s absence, Pandey rises to the exalted status of the batsman the team will most rely on in the final against Mumbai beginning on Monday. “Rahul’s absence is setback, and I am aware that the team looks up to me now,” Pandey said, matter-of-factly and without any pretensions.
I don’t look at it as extra pressure. It is an added responsibility, and I feel it is my duty to live up to the expectations of the Karnataka team.”
His awesome exploits have caught the attention of the selectors too, but Pandey is determined not to get carried away. “It’s best to live in the present,” remarked the classy right-hander. “Obviously, if I continue to score lots of runs, I will play a higher level of cricket but for now, the focus is on the now – the final against Mumbai.”
DH News Service