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Manish Pandey: the middle order hope of SRH

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Manish_Pandey_Cricket_IndiaThe 2016 season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) ended like a fairy-tale for the SunRisers Hyderabad (SRH) when they defeated a star-studded Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the latter's den. The atmosphere was electrifying. Although RCB are yet to lift the IPL trophy, they have well established a loyal fan-base that has turned up to the stadium regularly year after year.

RCB fans' heart broke when David Warner & Co. were crowned champions in Bangalore in 2016. It had been the same old story for the reds, but SRH opened a new chapter in their book. With the likes of Warner, Shikhar Dhawan, Kane Williamson, Yuvraj Singh and all-rounders Moises Henriques and Ben Cutting, SRH's batting lineup was sorted. Meanwhile, with India's spearhead Bhuveshwar Kumar, veteran Ashish Nehra, Bangladesh's gunner Mustafizur Rehman and young Barinder Sran, they had one of the strongest bowling attacks too. After a successful campaign in 2016, they got unlucky, with the rain playing spoiler in their eliminator match against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in 2017

Ahead of the 11th edition of the IPL, all the players went under the hammer, though the teams got to retain some crucial players. As the eight sides looked to start afresh, SRH were struck an early blow. Even before the IPL 2018 had gone underway, they were deprived of their captain - David Warner. The BCCI had suspended Warner and Steven Smith after they accepted the ball tampering accusations in Cape Town. While Australia had lost these two talented batsmen and leaders for a year, SRH and Rajasthan Royals were forced to look for new leaders at very short notice. For Hyderabad, the leading role was not a major issue since they already had a national captain in Kane Williamson. 

They had to focus on strengthening their batting line-up. They suddenly had lost their go-to and best batsman, who single-handedly won SRH matches in the past. It was safe to say that SRH had almost become reliant on the explosive starts Warner gave them at the top; the rest of the batting line-up worked around them. In Warner’s absence, SRH will expect all their recognized batsmen to step up. This could be a perfect platform for Manish Pandey to create a special place for himself. 

 

Pandey will always be remembered as the first Indian to score a hundred in the IPL. Playing for RCB, he smashed a 67-ball hundred at the Centurion to enter the record books. It took him six years after that to crack a place in the Indian team. He is a talented young guy, with fine batting and athletic skills, but Pandey has never managed to become the Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers or Yusuf Pathan of any of his teams. While these guys are at the crease, the team and fans still count on a victory; Pandey has not made it that big, even after 10 years in cricket. 

 

After having played 177 T20s, he only averages 28.42 with one century and 17 fifties. But he must not be judged by these numbers. He has always delivered when it mattered the most, especially in the Indian jersey. 

Ever since he scored the match-winning century against Australia in Sydney in 2016, he has been a regular member in India's limited-overs squad – both ODI and T20I. By regular member, I did not mean in the playing XI though. He has been one of the contenders for the No. 4 spot in the Indian 50-over team, competing with the likes of Dinesh Karthik, Shreyas Iyer and even Hardik Pandya. Taking the example of India's recent tour of South Africa, Pandey did not get to play a single ODI because Iyer and Karthik were chosen ahead of him. However, things change when the format is switched from 50 overs to Twenty20. 

He had a superb T20I series in South Africa, scoring 29*, 79* and 13 as India won the series 2-1. India sent a side close to being a second tier side to Sri Lanka for the Nidahas T20I Trophy, involving Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. In the absence of Kohli and MS Dhoni, Pandey showed a sense of responsibility with his knocks. He was careful with his shots and tried to remain at the crease for a longer time which brought some stability in the Indian middle-order. Although he had Suresh Raina and KL Rahul - more experienced players than him - above him, Pandey had made a difference in almost every match he played. He finished with 134 runs in four innings at an excellent average of 67. 

From fighting for the No. 4 place in the ODI side, Pandey has evolved into becoming a finisher in the shortest format. While Pandey averages more than 41.96 in T20Is so far, the numbers brighten up when he bats at No. 5, where he averages a stunning 94.66. 

Pandey has to replicate his role batting at No. 5 or 4 for the SunRisers. If they lose a wicket or two early, Pandey will have to be in the middle to handle the situation, which is something we have seen in the last couple of months. He keeps his variety of handy quick shots going and that always helps his side to finish with at least 10-15 runs more than expected. Pandey had the same role even with his previous franchise, Kolkata Knight Riders. He finished with 396 runs at an average of a near 50 in the previous edition of IPL

In the last season, apart from No. 4, he even batted at Nos. 5 and No. 6; the change was not very comfortable, but the middle-order batsman took up the challenge without any second thoughts. That showed his team spirit, his urge to learn more but more importantly, his fearless attitude that will be handy for the SRH. 

Even during the Tri-Series last month, Pandey was forced to change gears outside his comfort zone, and play according to the situation. For example, sometimes it required him to take up the more aggressive way with the bat and sometimes, he had to be careful, build a partnership and India needed him to stay at the crease till the end. 

Pandey passed all the tests with flying colors and that is the best takeaway for the 2016 champions.

 

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