Manish Pandey’s shoulders must be hurting from carrying the team’s batting bravely through the final 16 overs of the Sunrisers Hyderabad innings. But it was his tiring legs that came between him and a completion of a dream victory over Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League at the Wankhede Stadium on Thursday night.
Chasing 163 for victory, Sunrisers Hyderabad made a frenetic dash in the last three overs of their innings, having been kept in the hunt by Pandey’s mature approach. Along with Mohammad Nabi’s fireworks in the end, he was able to tie the score and take the match into the Super Over where was run out, going for a second run, off Jasprit Bumrah’s first delivery.
One of the greatest achievements is the fact that few had the chance to mention the non-availability of the team’s two leading scorers, David Warner and Jonny Bairstow, as the primary reason for the defeat via the Super Over. In fact, while he papered the cracks in the absence of those two overseas batsmen, Pandey made some think of a couple of other Indian mainstays.
It was the kind of innings a certain MS Dhoni would have conjured during a none-too-easy chase. Hard running between the wickets – 20 singles are ample testimony – were interspersed with a range of boundary hits in crunch moments. Pandey’s knock underlined a great awareness of the game situation, a maturity that made him stand out.
And, it was the kind of innings that would have elicited praise from a certain Virat Kohli had he been batting at the other end. For, Pandey backed himself to take Sunrisers Hyderabad closer to the target than had seemed possible when the Mumbai Indians’ spinners, Krunal Pandya and Rahul Chahar bowled eight tight overs.
Of course, a Dhoni and a Kohli may have taken their team to victory, but in not being able to do that, we were reminded that Pandey is his own man. His stroke-play, shifting from sublime to ruthless, from instinctive to pre-meditated, was the standout batting performance of the night from either side. He did not have an problems with timing the ball sweetly.
Yet, it was the kind of innings that Pandey knew that he was capable of playing, unmindful of the weight on his shoulders in the wake of Warner’s departure after the last game. He straddled the dual role of mainstay and finisher effortlessly, a vastly different batsman to the one who was searching for touch in the first half of the league and was even dropped from the XI.
The time on the reserves’ bench would have made Pandey, the first Indian batsman to score an IPL century all those years ago, introspect a great deal on the approach that he needed to embrace when at the crease. With scores of 83 not out, 61, 36 and 71 not out now, the 29-year-old has rediscovered the balance between care and audacious stroke-play.
His effort on Thursday night in was as much mental as physical. Playing the first game after top-scorer Warner flew back to Australia, Sunrisers Hyderabad cobbled together a new partnership of Wriddhiman Saha and Martin Guptill at the start of the chase. But with neither opening batsman staying long enough, the onus was well and truly on Pandey.
Come to think of it, the manner in which he responded to the twin pressures – an awareness that none of his team-mates following him in the batting order has had a great season; and the slackening of scoring in the seven overs after the halfway stage had been reached. From needing 83 in 10 overs, the equation had altered to 41 off 18 deliveries and all seemed lost.
Nabi set the ball rolling by striking Lasith Malinga for a four and a six in the 18th over but it was Pandey who silenced the Mumbai crowd by hitting two successive fours off Bumrah at the end of the penultimate over. Even after Nabi’s fall with nine to get, Pandey did not give up his pursuit of 163.
Having taken two off the penultimate delivery, Pandey gathered his nerves to send the final ball from Hardik Pandya soaring to the wide long-on fence to tie the score and force the match into the Super Over. Unfortunately for him and his side, he was run out going for a second run off the first ball in the Super Over. And the innings terminated soon as Nabi was bowled by Bumrah.
By scoring his third half-century in four innings since returning to bat at No 3 in Sunrisers Hyderabad’s match in Chennai, Pandey has made people take note of his prowess again. Of course, he would have loved to take the team over the line but that was not to be. His run out dismissal off the first ball of the Super Over proved to be costly.
Truth to tell, Pandey’s innings deserved a better result for his team. For all the excitement that the match offered the fans, Sunrisers Hyderabad were left to deal with having to win their final league game in Bengaluru as well for results of other games to go their way to be able to take the last playoff slot. A pre-tournament favourites, they now find themselves in a precarious situation.