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Manish Pandey and the No. 4 Question

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Manish_Pandey_India_CricketThe unending debate of who in the Indian batting line-up will make the No. 4 spot his own has only gotten more intense lately. With Yuvraj Singh, who briefly occupied that spot, now ruled out of the race, the search for someone reliable and capable of preventing a classic middle-order collapse continues. India have tried Ajinkya Rahane and KL Rahul batting out of position, and have had Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya give glimpses of their ability, but the debate is still far from over.

Manish Pandey, who should be the ideal candidate for the spot, has hardly done justice to the responsibility he was given. In the last year he has underperformed even by his own standards. A lot of this can be attributed to India’s newfound tendency to shuffle the line-up for various reasons: to expose batsmen to different match situations, due to injuries, unavailability or encouraging them to assume a more flexible and versatile approach. As a result, players like Manish Pandey have not got a consistent, long run at one single position.

Now that India have singled out Pandey and Pandya for that role, the road for Manish gets slightly less rocky. Hardik will probably still just be the big hitter who will occasionally be promoted to two down when spinners are on, or when the team can afford to send in an attacking batsman. However, for most occasions, India will need a specialist like Pandey to take up the responsibility of batting in the toughest position in limited overs, particularly because he outranks his counterparts in terms of ability.

Most people question the selectors for still backing Manish after fairly average numbers in his last 10 international outings. He has scored a meagre 169 ODI runs in 7 innings at an average of 42.25 this year while his overall record consists of 430 runs in 16 innings at an average of 43 with one century and two half centuries.

Though a small sample to base an argument on, his 104* in Sydney remains etched in by brain as proof of the kind of caliber he possesses, and it upsets me that he does not get more chances to give us such memories.

 

The constant chopping and changing in the batting order has certainly contributed to his inconsistency and India will have to alter their approach a little bit and persist with him, giving him consistent opportunities in the same spot. This is not only so that Pandey can fit in, but also to solve the team’s problem at No. 4.

 

Versatility and flexibility should be secondary. Players need to know where they actually stand in the team. Emphasis on this is important because these two keywords were pretty much what contributed to Ajinkya Rahane’s confused position in limited overs cricket. And we don’t want other players walking down the same road.

Having said that, Pandey himself needs to realise that he is being given the backing he deserves and should make full use of every chance he is getting, even if they are not as consistent as he would prefer. He is a player who likes to build his innings and begin an assault only when he is comfortably set, and that makes him ideal for the role in case of a top-order collapse. However, he should also be willing to switch gears and be the link between the top order, who focus on laying a foundation, and the lower-middle order who up the ante after the middle overs.

This was what was needed from him in Eden Gardens against Australia when the platform was set: India was in the driver’s seat at 121 for 2 with close to half the innings left. If all went well, India could have easily crossed 300. However, Pandey’s quick dismissal made things worse for his own record and for the remaining batsmen of the batting order.

Three more wickets fell in the crucial middle overs and India was left to rely on 20-something runs from Pandya, Jadhav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar each. India finished the innings at 252 when there was almost 300 on the cards. Of course, India defended the total and won the match but a weak link between the top-middle order and the lower-middle order has resulted in various collapses. A no. 4 batsman is supposed to change that and be the buffer between the two and Manish Pandey can do that. But will he be doing it anytime soon?

We could all do with some more memories to go along with the one in Sydney. We all want to add to the Manish Pandey folder in our heads.

 

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