Manish Pandey remained unbeaten on 49-ball 69 vs DD    BCCI
Manish Pandey remained unbeaten on 49-ball 69 vs DD BCCI

Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) can get innovative with their promotional ideas. They have the support of the film fraternity and at helm is a marketing genius, a co-owner in Shahrukh Khan. A year back, they morphed a Dabangg poster and replaced Salman Khan s image with Manish Pandey s. The character played by Salman in the movie went by the name of Chulbul Pandey. However, there is nothing chulbul (mischievous) about KKR s Pandey. Rather, there is an infectious calmness. There is also the rare swagger…

The battlefield for match 18 of the 10th edition of IPL was Delhi s Feroz Shah Kotla. The target was 169. Pandey walked out at 19 for 2 after 2 overs. Five balls later, he lost captain Gautam Gambhir. The score read 21 for 3. Delhi Daredevils (DD) captain Zaheer Khan had his tails up, and Pat Cummins was generating serious pace. Already three down and not much batting to come, KKR had other hurdles like form of Chris Morris, Amit Mishra and Mohammed Shami to conquer.

Not an easy respite for the opposition if your sixth bowler is Angelo Mathews. Watching from the dugout were Kagiso Rabada, Jayant Yadav and Shahbaz Nadeem.

To Pandey s advantage, he had his form by his side. His scores prior to this in this tournament read 81* (47), 25* (16) and 46 (35). He also had the luxury of having Yusuf Pathan at the other end. The situation in the middle was not as easy as these two made it look like. They kept rotating the strike, dispatched the loose ball to the ropes, often over it. The required run rate never went over 9 an over. The 110-run fourth wicket stand placed Kolkata to the doorstep of victory.

When Yusuf fell, KKR needed 38 from 31 balls with 6 wickets in hand. The wily Zaheer managed to keep Pandey off strike and sneaked out dot balls, and also the wicket of Suryakumar Yadav.

KKR needed 9 from the final over. Zaheer chose Mishra for the task, ahead of Shami and Mathews. It was a gamble that seemed to be paying off when he beat Chris Woakes with the first ball and dismissed him off the next. Sunil Narine managed a single and the strike was back to Pandey.

KKR needed 8 from 3 balls at this stage.

Effective finishers back themselves, their machismo. The very good ones also remain calm and play with the bowler s psyche. It is a gift that some players possess, the ability to excel under pressure.

Pandey belongs to this elite league.

Mishra s guile has made him lethal in shorter formats. With eight needed from three balls, Pandey stayed back, he anticipated that Mishra would fire one in. The same happened as he clobbered it straight for a six. Pandey had prepared himself for both the googly and the flipper, which was why he had stayed rooted back, deep in the crease.

Irrespective of formats, brawn is just supplementary to brain. A finisher should know it well.

He simply pushed the next between cover and mid-off to run two and seal things off. Despite the last hiccup, KKR made the victory look easy. Pandey had breezed to 69 not out from 49 ball, claiming the Orange Cap as KKR catapulted to the top spot.

KKR has benefitted in placing their faith on Pandey and an efficient pool of players, not caring much on stardom. Over years they have reaped results.

Excelling under pressure

Pandey is another talent from the special batch of India Under-19 of 2008. While his peers like Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja have leapfrogged ahead of him as stars, Pandey s rise has rather been gradual.

He too had his moments. In 2009, only 19 then, he became the first Indian to slam an IPL hundred. Five years later came his biggest moment when he defied the odds and belted a 50-ball 94 to guide KKR to their second IPL title.

In between, there were good knocks in the IPL as well as in domestic circuit. Pandey s 144 in the Ranji Trophy Final of 2009-10 almost saw Karnataka through against a strong Mumbai. Pandey remained in the news for his abilities to pull off heroics in crunch games.

He finally got his ODI cap in Zimbabwe in 2015. His 86-ball 71 on debut came in a pressure situation but the moment was overshadowed by Kedar Jadhav s century. Six months later, only in his third innings, he played one of the finest ODI knocks by an Indian.

Going into the Sydney game, India were trailing 0-4. The Australian bowlers had managed to contain MS Dhoni. The task was difficult had multiplied for Pandey. Exhibiting immense calm, Pandey struck 104 not out from 81 balls to help India chase 331 with 2 balls to spare.

Pandey has been a fixture in India s ODI side ever since. He may not have the elegance of Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma or the authority of Kohli, but with his unattractive slaps, busy style, and ability to improvise, he adds immense value to any side he plays.

Pandey s 221 runs in this have come at a strike rate of 150. What is more, he has remained unbeaten in 3 of his 4 outings. He has found home at No. 4; for KKR to continue dominating, the think-tank will hope for his blade to continue blazing.