It took the 250th over of this series for an Indian batsman to reach the three-figure mark that ended up in an Indian win. Manish Pandey, the man who didn’t get to bat in Perth and faced just 13 balls in Brisbane before getting dropped, scored India’s sixth century this series and arguably, the most meaningful one as India clinched a thriller in Sydney to earn a consolation win.
First, let’s get the negatives out of the way: Umesh Yadav’s bowling continued to be ridiculously inconsistent – he went for 82 runs in his eight overs, to finish the series with an absurd economy rate of 7.21. Only Rohit Sharma, who bowled a solitary over for 11 runs, had a worse economy rate for India. Admittedly the pitches were batting paradises, but Umesh’s performance in Sydney was a lesson in how not to bowl on flat wickets as he gifted the Australian batsmen one boundary ball after another.
Then MS Dhoni’s batting. The result gives his innings a different tone, especially after that last over six (oh, how India have missed those!) that essentially sealed the game in India’s favour. But make no mistake, Dhoni’s 42-ball 34 looked like a match-defining innings in a losing cause for the best part of the last 10 overs. He made it count when it mattered however, saving himself from some definite embarrassment.
Well that’s that. Throughout this series, which India deservedly lost 4-1, the focus has been overwhelmingly on what went wrong for India. Batting was good but could have been better, bowling was bad but that was to be expected, fielding was poor too for the most part. After this consolation win, it’d be worthwhile to focus on perhaps one of India’s biggest positive this series apart from the form of the top-order: Manish Pandey’s innings at the SCG.
Coming in at a time when India’s chase master Virat Kohli was back in the pavilion after his first failure with the bat this series, Pandey had a daunting task ahead. A cheap dismissal then would have meant he remained a mere footnote in an overall forgettable series for India. But, with Rohit Sharma at the other end playing a measured innings, Pandey set out to leave his mark Down Under before he departs Australian shores.
And leave a mark, he did. Starting out cautiously, Pandey steadied himself (making 12 off his first 17 balls before his first boundary) and then set about gradually increasing his scoring rate. His first 30 balls fetched 35 runs, 60 balls 74 runs, and he finished with 104 runs off 81 balls. Especially after Rohit’s dismissal, Pandey assumed the responsibility of finishing the game off. Consider this: his 44 runs before Rohit’s disappointing dismissal on 99, had four boundaries and a massive six off Nathan Lyon while his 60 runs hence had just four more boundaries – including the most crucial in the last over to bring up his 100. The rest was accumulated through prods, chipped shots and some tireless running.
It was a beautifully paced innings, one where he hardly looked flustered. Before you dismiss it as a dead-rubber on a flat deck, weigh into consideration the cost of failure in this innings. India enter T20 mode in the next three days and till the World T20 ends in April, that’s the only format Dhoni’s men will play. Not making a mark here would have meant a few months in oblivion for Pandey, considering Gurkeerat Mann was already named as Ajinkya Rahane’s cover for the T20Is and not him.
As it turned out, he took India home in what was the highest-ever run-chase against Australia in Australia. A feat that should have technically been achieved in Canberra, where – surprise, surprise – India lacked a batsman assuming responsibility in the death overs a la Manish Pandey.
“The kind of innings Manish has played today will give him an extra 10-15 ODIs, where you can really settle in and start to do what you need to at the international level, adapting to the demands of the game. A lot will change when you play at different venues and in different conditions. As of now he is someone who looks good at No. 5,” Dhoni said after the match.
Praising Pandey’s running between the wickets, Dhoni also spoke about the patience that he showed in manipulating the large vacant areas in the field. “I told him whatever happens you will get at least two boundaries, and ultimately we will get those runs. As far as player development is concerned this innings will be very important for him and he will have to keep in mind the good things he did in this game," Dhoni added.
Add to all this the fact Manish Pandey was arguably India’s best fielder on the day, it is fair to say he grabbed a dead-rubber by the scruff of its neck and breathed some life into it, at least as far as his stuttering international career is concerned. With the middle-order being India’s biggest concern in ODIs, like Jigar Mehta elaborated in his analysis for Firstpost, this is an innings that could prove crucial for India as well in the long run.
And for once, it is good to focus on something positive in a series where there has been quite the negativity surrounding the Indian team.