One of the biggest talking points in India’s limited-overs cricket in recent times is the unsettled middle order. Manish Pandey, one of the many batsmen trying to seal a spot in the line-up, made a case for himself with a sparkling 48-ball 79 not out in the second Twenty20 International against South Africa on Wednesday (February 21) in Centurion.
Pandey, like a few others, has been in and out of the Indian XI over the last two years. The batsman called his batting position – No. 5 – a thankless one, but conceded that he has to do a lot more to make the spot permanent.
“I was waiting to play here. Even in the one-dayers, I was trying to squeeze my chances in but that didn’t happen,” he said. “Centurion has always been good to me, I still remember the 100 I got here (in IPL) nine-ten years ago.
“I bat at No. 5 most of the times. Sometimes I got chances at No. 4, I’ve delivered. Also the batting combination sometimes pushes me down to No. 5. I have tried my bit but I also feel that I could also probably do a little bit more with myself. India have a really good line up and the top three bat till 30-35 overs, with Virat Kohli there, and with Mahi (MS Dhoni) coming ahead of me. But yeah, some more chances and I wish I could deliver more. And I feel I can deliver a lot more than what I am doing right now.”
Pandey did not play any of the six One-Day Internationals in this tour, and made a laborious 27-ball 29 in the first T20I. He conceded that the uncertainty of whether he would make it to the XI makes life difficult.
“Honestly it’s a little tough and it works on your mind a lot,” he said. “Especially on this tour, I have felt it a lot actually. But it’s okay, it’s part of the game and you have to wait your chances, especially playing for a team like India when you have so many stars and legends after legends in the line-up.
“It’s tough, playing for India at No. 5. The people who have batted at No. 5 before me have been guys like (Suresh) Raina, Yuvraj (Singh). To fill their shoes is a little tough but it has been a couple of years till now that the Indian batting line-up is doing really well. I think you have to be very patient for your chances. From ball one, you have to go for it. That’s what I tried in the first game, I played a little slow, but it happens when you play after a long time. Today was a good day for me. It is (a thankless position), but I just want to squeeze my chances in there.”
Talking about the second game, Pandey said South Africa bowled well but credited Dhoni for India’s late surge that took them to 188 for 4, from a precarious 90 for 4 when the duo joined hands.
“Mahi woke up,” he joked when asked about the last five overs where India scored 64 runs. That was his chance. He’s probably the best when he bats lower down the order. Last couple of overs, he looks to dominate and that’s what happens. He has done that a number of times.
“I thought the South African cricket team bowled well. It is just that a couple of inside edges went to the boundary and some great shots by Mahi took us to 188, but South Africa bowled fairly well today.”
Meanwhile, Heinrich Klaasen, the star for South Africa on the night said he didn’t see himself as a competition for Quinton de Kock. Klaasen, the wicketkeeper-batsman, smashed a 30-ball 69 to guide his side home.
“No, not at all. I think he is a world-class player,” he said. “I don’t think he has anything to worry about yet. If you look at Quinny, AB and Faf and with Temba coming back as well. They are world-class players.
“So, in some sort, to put my name in that list is good. It is definitely a very important stage of my career – putting myself on the map or in this setup. But if this is my last game, the weekend one, so be it, I am happy with it. My dream is fulfilled.”
Klaasen smashed seven sixes in his innings, and was particularly heavy on Yuzvendra Chahal, the legspinner, who went for a massive 64 runs in his four overs.
“I fancy him (Chahal) quite a lot,” he said. “When I was in amateur cricket and had started my career, there were a couple of quality leggies. I faced Shaun von Berg at the Titans a lot as well. We always made a joke that I need to finish the other leggie’s career so he can go up, sometimes it works. Tonight it worked perfectly. I just tried to cash in as much as possible.
“It (the onslaught on Chahal) wasn’t planned. But the way the seamers bowled, the cutters, they’ve got very, very good skills as I have said before, I just fancied my chances more against the leggie and had more options against him. So when I got the first two boundaries, I thought this is the over I got to target. Maybe if I can get 20-odd in this over.”