It is tough being a finisher in T20 cricket. Especially in a team that has a prolific top order like India. You rarely get to bat if you are at No 5 or lower and even when you do, it is in typically in the last couple of overs when you have to go wham-bham from the word go or the team is struggling after few early wickets. It is hard to find a hitting rhythm in any of those situations, especially if you are the middle-order lynch-pin for your side in domestic or IPL cricket.

It is tough being Manish Pandey.

In the last 16 matches Pandey has been selected for India in T20Is, he has batted 13 times. Among those 13 innings, he has unbeaten in nine of them, mostly because he has barely spent any time at the crease even if he did get to bat. And in those 13 outings, he has batted for more than 30 balls just once: when he came in to bat at No 6 after his Karnataka teammate KL Rahul was dismissed in the fourth T20 International in Wellington on Friday to leave India struggling at 75/4.

And after a while, he gave a reminder as to what he is capable of bringing to this Indian side with a resilient, busy innings that eventually proved match-winning for Virat Kohli and Co. When a below-par score looked imminent, Pandey rallied with the lower order to take India from 88/6 to 165/8 in 20 overs: a target that proved to be zero runs too much for New Zealand, again, as India won back-to-back T20Is via Super Overs.

Manish Pandey's T20 innings since March 2018

Runs BF SR Pos Opposition Ground Start Date
50* 36 138.88 6 v New Zealand Wellington 31 Jan 2020
14* 6 233.33 6 v New Zealand Hamilton 29 Jan 2020
DNB - - - v New Zealand Auckland 26 Jan 2020
14* 12 116.66 6 v New Zealand Auckland 24 Jan 2020
31* 18 172.22 4 v Sri Lanka Pune 10 Jan 2020
22* 13 169.23 6 v Bangladesh Nagpur 10 Nov 2019
2* 5 40.00 5 v West Indies Providence 6 Aug 2019
6 8 75.00 5 v West Indies Lauderhill 4 Aug 2019
19 14 135.71 5 v West Indies Lauderhill 3 Aug 2019
4* 6 66.66 5 v West Indies Chennai 11 Nov 2018
DNB - - - v West Indies Lucknow 6 Nov 2018
19 24 79.16 5 v West Indies Kolkata 4 Nov 2018
21* 20 105.00 5 v Ireland Dublin (Malahide) 29 Jun 2018
0* 0 - 7 v Ireland Dublin (Malahide) 27 Jun 2018
28 27 103.70 5 v Bangladesh Colombo (RPS) 18 Mar 2018
DNB - - - v Bangladesh Colombo (RPS) 14 Mar 2018
42* 31 135.48 5 v Sri Lanka Colombo (RPS) 12 Mar 2018
27* 19 142.10 5 v Bangladesh Colombo (RPS) 8 Mar 2018
37 35 105.71 4 v Sri Lanka Colombo (RPS) 6 Mar 2018
Courtesy: ESPNCricinfo Statsguru

Though he has been a regular in the side in the shortest format for a while now, the opportunities have been few and far between. And that is exactly what the top order collapse in Wellington was for him: an opportunity. To bat for more than 10 overs. To spend time in the middle. To take India to a competitive total.

And with a 36-ball unbeaten 50, he managed to tick most of those boxes. It could have been a better innings had he farmed the strike in the last couple of overs and taken a few more risks, but as New Zealand showed later, taking risks was not easy on this surface and 165 proved to be a challenging total.

The feature of that half century from Pandey was how calculated his approach was. In an innings where the strike rate was close to 140.00, he hit just three fours and no sixes. He accumulated runs by piercing the gaps and finding the longer parts of the ground to run twos. He ran hard. He ran fast.

And for a batsman who made his name for being a stroke-maker, for his attacking flair, that was not the natural game. He adapted to the situation and did not throw his wicket away like Shivam Dube and Sanju Samson — two other players who had an opportunity to show the team management what they are capable of — did earlier.

In the three boundaries he did hit, he showed what a clean striker of the ball he is. A shot down the ground off a bouncer was right out of the repertoire of a tennis player. Playing the natural game is an overused trope in cricket and it is all to do with playing the situation; having the wherewithal to know when to attack and when to put your head down and run hard. It is something one man in the Indian dressing room would do well to bring to his game: Rishabh Pant is arguably sitting out of this lineup to accommodate Pandey in the middle order and this innings was an example of why that is.

To his credit, Pandey understands his role with India and has made peace with it.

“I have no choice. I have to be good with it. I have to start preparing my mind as a No 6 batsman because normally I bat up the order, No 3 or No 4. Here with the competition up the top, you just have to wait for your chances,” the 30-year-old said after the match.

“Today was the opportunity and I’ve been preparing myself as to how to bat at No 6 and what kind of shots I can play, what kind of bowlers, and how many overs are left. It’s not an easy position to bat at No 6, where you know you are the last main batsman and you have to play with the bowlers if anything happens up the top. That’s what happened today. I was pretty clear about my role.”

For all you know, Pandey’s chances to impress will remain few and far between when he plays for India and he will have to wait for the IPL season to begin to clock some batting minutes under his belt in the middle. But he showed on Friday in Wellington what he brings to the table for Kohli’s side.