In recent times, Manish Pandey has taken a lot of flak. It started in South Africa, where his low strike-rate was a cause for concern. This criticism has continued into the 2018 Indian Premier League (IPL) season as Pandey struggled to get used to the Sunrisers Hyderabad way of life. Silently though, he has notched up two half-centuries in the last four innings.
Do you know the common denominators between the two? Pandey scored both his half-centuries against Kings XI Punjab, and both were criticised for a slow scoring rate. On first glance, especially for that first game at Mohali, you cannot argue against it. But if you watched his knock on Thursday night in the return game, there is no merit in such criticism because Pandey beautifully played according to the situation to help Hyderabad post a total they could fight with.
After nine overs, Hyderabad were placed at 54/3. The need of the hour was to buckle down and repair the innings. On a two-paced pitch, it was easier said than done. Pandey and Shakib Al Hasan put on 52 runs for the fourth wicket, but more importantly, they lost only one wicket in the block of overs between the two strategic time-outs. Even if the scoring was not expansive, it allowed Hyderabad to keep wickets in hand and make a dash for quick runs in the end.
Do you know what this is called in modern-day cricket? Playing the situation, for that is precisely what Pandey did. Coming in at a precarious time, the game demanded someone to play out the overs with a cool head and bat to his strengths. Never mind the criticism, Pandey did just that and put his side in a handsome position at halftime. A similar situation then arose in the second innings of this match as well. Only difference? The likes of Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair, Aaron Finch and Manoj Tiwary, as experienced as Pandey if not more, simply threw away their wickets.
Sample this. Thanks to Chris Gayle and KL Rahul, Kings XI Punjab were cruising at 55/0 at one point in their innings. It was another quick and calculated start from the duo which has come to be known as the most ferocious opening pair in this season’s IPL. Thereafter, through some atrocious decision making and unbelievably poor shot making, Punjab managed to get bowled out for 119 runs. Yes, they lost 10 wickets for 64 runs in what will certainly go down as one of the most shocking batting collapses in IPL history.
Who is to blame here? Surely not the opening batsmen who provided a healthy start, and nor the lower-order batsmen (or bowlers per say), who had made sure that Hyderabad didn’t put up a tall total. This was down to the profligacy of the middle-order that is repeatedly becoming a problem for Punjab. That they decided to drop Yuvraj Singh on account of his poor run was a credit to their team management. But the whole point of this massive strategic call came to nought considering how the middle-order performed.
Consider Agarwal. He has just come off a splendid Ranji Trophy season, and there were calls to see him make the grade to an Indian team. But truth be told, the Indian team is brimming with talent at the moment and all the spots are choked with players making their bid for starting in the first eleven. Players like Agarwal then need to utilise a platform like IPL to make a further impact and move into an undeniable zone to make their international call-up case.
It hasn’t happened for him because every time he has gone out to bat, Agarwal has thrown away his wicket. Despite being promoted to No 3, he has not shown enough wherewithal to buckle down and build on Punjab’s starts. His highest score this season is 30, which cannot be considered in any selection meeting. On Thursday, he again did the same thing he has done all season.
Consider Finch. The Australian has been shifted up and down the order, but he is considered among the more destructive batsmen in T20 cricket. We are yet to see that avatar of his. Finch has scores of 0, 0, 14*, 2 and 8 in five innings this season, which is an abysmal return. At times he has faced unplayable deliveries. At other times, he has run out of overs. But on Thursday, he had both time and overs available to him, as also a very reachable target. It still didn’t happen.
Both Agarwal and Finch were guilty of playing expansive strokes and holing out when instead they should have played the situation like Pandey did. Nair and Tiwary were foxed by bowlers, and let one give credit to Hyderabad’s attack where it is due. Defending two sub-150 totals in successive matches in a tournament like the IPL is never easy, but Kane Williamson’s bowlers have done the unthinkable.
Even so, there is a stark contrast in the manner Mumbai Indians surrendered the other day and how Punjab nosedived towards defeat. Chasing 119/3, Mumbai were reduced to 21/3 and never got the steady, quick start that Punjab were able to get. In the true sense, Mumbai were out-bowled by Hyderabad and their batsmen completely foxed out. In comparison, Punjab were keen on gifting their wickets away, and Hyderabad only had to come out and accept.
So much so that lower-order batsmen as R Ashwin and Andrew Tye, who can be counted upon to stay at the wicket and milk for runs, were looking to play big shots mostly. Not everyone can be Gayle to smack the ball out of the park. Not everyone can be MS Dhoni either, reading the situation and calmly finishing the game time and again. The equilibrium needs to be found somewhere in between, and Punjab’s batsmen completely failed at that mark. This inexplicable desire to go big and win the match by hitting sixes had transferred down from the top to the bottom, resulting in one of the worst batting displays in T20 cricket, rendering Ankit Rajpoot’s splendid five-wicket haul completely obsolete.
In the first half of this season, Punjab have made a case for themselves as one of the early contenders for the knock-out spots. Yet, in this game, that notion was completely belied by some insipid batting, showcasing why this franchise has never found ultimate success in the past.