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Batsman Pandey Stands Tall for Captain Pandey in Tricky Chase

Karthik Lakshmanan |January 18, 2019, 3:55 PM IST
Batsman Pandey Stands Tall for Captain Pandey in Tricky Chase

Bangalore: Manish Pandey the batsman is thriving under Manish Pandey the captain. Pandey took over as captain of the Karnataka Ranji side from Vinay Kumar towards the end of 2018, and has since led from the front with scores of 40, 102*, 43, 50, 7 and 87*.

The latest - an unbeaten 87 off just 75 balls against Rajasthan at the M Chinnaswamy stadium - put Karnataka in the semifinal of the Ranji Trophy 2018-19. It was a mini masterclass on how to kill tricky chases on tricky wickets.

Rajasthan had their tails up when Pandey walked in to bat. Chasing 184, Karnataka had slipped to 56 for 4. The pitch had been up and down through the game, and Rajasthan's bowlers led by Aniket Choudhary were on fire. Karnataka's batsmen had floundered in the first innings too, slipping to 166 for 9 before Vinay Kumar lifted them to 263 with an unbeaten 83.

Pandey, though, put all that behind and launched a counter-attack to grab the momentum, and eventually the game, from Rajasthan. While other batsmen tried to survive, Pandey looked to score, especially in boundaries. As many as 68 of his 87 runs - 14 fours and two sixes - came in boundaries.

"Playing at KSCA, as a batsman it's important to be positive. The intent to score runs should be there," Pandey explained his approach after the game. "From previous games' experience, what I thought was being too defensive sometimes doesn't work, it hasn't worked in the past. So I was clear in my mindset to go in and look to score runs, especially boundaries because the boundaries are really small. They're a little easy to get once you're set."

The 'once you're set' is a key factor, for Pandey didn't find things easy right from the beginning. As is often a necessity in such chases, Pandey enjoyed a bit of luck early on even as he got three boundaries in an over off left-arm pacer Tanver ul Haq. The first one fell short of and went through sweeper cover, the second was an outside edge through the vacant second slip, the third was an inside edge that missed the stumps and found the fine leg ropes.

"The first three boundaries I got - I know it was not very convincing - but after that we started to see the change (in Rajasthan's approach)," he said. "Their voices dropped and things like that. It happens in cricket. That was my intention to go there and do the job.

"Today (the wicket) was not that difficult because the ball was not new, it was semi-new or old ball. The wicket was not doing that much as in the previous couple of days. I thought the target of 184 - one big partnership, of 50-70 runs, would have done the job for us. As me and Karun (Nair) were batting, after a point it became too easy and we eventually cruised through."

For Pandey to bat the way he did, he needed a calm hand at the other end. He got exactly that in the form of Nair, who made 61 not out off 129 balls in the unbroken 129-run stand. Nair had just 166 runs from nine innings coming into this knock, but showed his experience when Karnataka needed it the most. He survived a testing spell late on the third day, and played the perfect second fiddle to Pandey on the fourth day.

"Before the match I said a couple of innings don't really define a batsman," said Pandey, speaking about Nair. "We back players who are willing to perform and have performed in the past. That's what Karun did, with his experience and hunger to get runs. Just before the big game, the semis, he wanted to bat and spend some time on the wicket. He did that beautifully, just backed his game and eventually the runs came. I think not just him, most batsmen have to think like this before big games.

"I thought it was never easy till the time we got the last runs. Karun did really well. He is the senior player, has played Tests. He did a good job there and helped Karnataka win."

While Pandey and Nair applied the finishing touches, it was another experienced player who set up the win for Karnataka. Former skipper Vinay Kumar delivered the game-changing blow, this time with the bat. His 97-run stand for the last wicket with Ronit More in the first innings gave Karnataka a slender lead, and ensured they didn't have to chase too much in the fourth innings.

"If I have to rate anything, that partnership and the way Vinay batted was one of the reasons why we won the game quite comfortably today," said Pandey. "No one really expected that but from where they started playing, and the way Vinay has always played, he has done this quite a few times in all these matches he has played. It was heartening to see. That was the turning point for us."

Karnataka have been inconsistent through their campaign so far, but are showing signs of coming together going into the final four. They'll meet the winner of the Saurashtra - Uttar Pradesh game in the semi-final. Things could possibly get better then, for they might have Mayank Agarwal, who missed the Rajasthan clash due to a finger injury, back.

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