SK Elite: A calm Manish brews Pandey-monium in Sydney
As a cricket fan, growing up, everyone wants to play for India. You shadow bat alone on sultry afternoons fantasising about tough situations you’re driving your team out of. Your team, Team India. But then you grow up and life happens. And that dream gets lost somewhere on that terrace, in that lawn, or in that community park.
But one fine evening, at the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground, one youngster lived that dream. At the other end was another dreamer. One who had already lived this one at various instances. And while this seemed like just another evening for that dreamer: MS Dhoni, this had to be about the young one, Manish Pandey.
Manish Pandey is a rarity. He is that big-specification and benchmark result smartphone that just doesn't seem to catch enough eyeballs. He’s a rarity in both talent and the way he uses that. Someone who cherishes the biggest stage, you can’t say he falters when he does because of the sense of occasion. Manish has been here long enough to not let the occasion affect him. For all that it’s worth, he is at his best when the stage desires a hero.
He scored a 144 in the Ranji Trophy final in 2009-10 for Karnataka. A game that Karnataka lost by the slimmest margin of six runs. He scored IPL’s first century for an Indian at the age of 18 in a must-win game for the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). In the semi-final that season itself he pulled off another man of the match performance. In the 2010-11 Duleep Trophy semi-final, he scored a double century. In yet another big game, the IPL Final of 2014, chasing 200, he scored 94 and virtually singlehandedly gunned that down for the Kolkata Knight Riders.
So, he’s had it in him all this while. He is a kid who lived that dream of winning his side a game. Being the one to hit the winning runs. But this was different. It was his debut tour in the Blues. The blues that every cricketer wishes to don the day he/she sets out to play this beautiful game.
At a crucial stage in the game, Manish was batting with MS. The required rate had crept up to almost 12 runs/over. Chasing 330 to win, Pandey came in to bat with India reduced to 134 for 2 with both Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli back in the hut. For India to remain in the game this was an important phase in this chase. Pandey happily played the second fiddle to Rohit Sharma while the latter was in the middle.
When Rohit got out for 99, the spectre of another collapse akin to the last game in Canberra loomed large. Also the ignominy of a 5-0 whitewash in the ODI series. India needed 100 off the last 15 overs. Not a huge score but with big grounds and the ever-persistent Aussie bowlers at you all the time, you tend to get bogged down more often than not.
The one thing going all the way for Manish was his partner at the other end throughout this deciding phase in the game: MSD. MS made sure that not even for a moment the young Manish playing only his 4th ODI never succumbed to the pressure. In big games when a lot is riding on you, sometimes the pressure of the moment can induce a false shot.
More often than not a false shot in Australia means that you’ve holed out to someone in the deep. MS made sure that alongside Manish he took the game as deep as possible. India needed 35 off the last three overs. They scored 13 off the 48th and nine off the 49th. Needing 13 off the last over, this was MSD territory.
And he didn't disappoint, after a wide as the first ball from Mitchell Marsh, MS pummeled the next ball for a six. The very next ball, attempting to hit another one over the fence and in the process overhitting it a tad, MS holed out to David Warner at long-off. However, in his umpteenth moment of genius, MS compels Manish to cross over.
The equation was 6 off 4 balls. On most days, in his sleep on some of them, Manish would get these runs and not break a sweat. But this was different. This was a game he had to win not for a club or his stateside. This was dreamy stuff. In only his 4th game, Pandey had a chance to not only score a ton but also score winning runs for his side affecting their solitary win in an otherwise dismal series.
A wide ball outside the off stump and Pandey waits, almost like he had waited for this shot all his life. He waits and waits and waits and just at the right moment simply guides it past the keeper. A wide third-man meant this ball would roll to the boundary.
He jumped and exulted in joy. And then did something every kid did an imaginary impersonation of growing up. Took his helmet off and kissed that badge and tricolour. This was his moment. Another couple off the next ball and a calm Manish had caused Pandey-monium in the Sydney.