Mahendra Singh Dhoni's numbers and record for India as a finisher has been immaculate. From batting at No.3 to finishing games, Dhoni evolved himself into one of the game's prime finishers and perhaps overtook the great Michael Bevan as well for some. But, as time wore him down, the ability disappeared and his regress was for everyone to see over the last two years.
With Dhoni not playing a game after the 2019 World Cup and Hardik Pandya unavailable due to injury as well, India put their money on Manish Pandey and the Karnataka batsman is finally answering to the team management's call after being in and out of the side for a long while.
Generally a middle-order batsman for his state side and IPL as well, Pandey made his Team India debut in 2015 against Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe. Since then, he has gone on to play sporadically with the highlight of his career being the match-winning 104 not out against Australia in 2016 at the SCG.
The century was his announcement in the grand stage and perhaps the answer to India's middle-order woes but inconsistency from both him and the team management resulted in Pandey being overlooked on most occasions and benched on others. But, the absence of Dhoni and Hardik's along with India's new found formula of KL Rahul keeping, Pandey's chances have been more and he is finally beginning to make the most of it.
The 30-year-old is solid batter and not a smasher of the ball. Unlike a Dhoni in his early stages and Pandya often, Pandey will not be seen playing power strokes but more calculated shots with pure timing. Along with that, his ability to bat with the tail makes him an ideal option to finish games off in Hardik's absence.
In the last five games he has played, Pandey has seen his team through on four occasions including a crucial 50* against New Zealand on Friday at the Sky Stadium in Wellington. Much like Dhoni, he plays according to the situation and can bat with the tail, thus, making an ideal option to back when the game needs finishing off.
"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," Pandey said at a press conference after India's win in Wellington.
"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.
"I just have to play those two's, look to rotate the strike. I've been working on that and today I thought it came off really well. If you want to bat at six, then you have to be pre-ready. The game is already set for you at no. 6 and you just have to sometimes go and perform at the speed that the previous batsmen have set for you," Pandey said.
It's too early to put Pandey and Dhoni in the same bracket but since the veteran left, Pandey has accustomed well into the role at No.6. With India giving enough opportunities to Kedar Jadhav and Shivam Dube but neither taking it, Pandey's stability with the bat and ability to flourish with it later, makes him a perfect candidate to carry on Dhoni's legacy in the shortest format of the game at least with the World T20 in sight later in the year.
The right-hander averages 46.60 in 37 T20Is and hits them at a handy strike-rate of 126.54 as well. With the World T20 scheduled in Australia, where pitches will have the ball coming on to the bat, Pandey's technique of standing tall and playing on the rise will come handy for Virat Kohli's men down the order. In fact, he has also been not out in his last six T20I innings and has scores of 50*, 14*, 14*, 31*, 22*, 2*.
With the impending arrival of Hardik Pandya as well, Pandey could be India's No.5 with Hardik and Ravindra Jadeja to follow at No.6 and No.7 to provide India a solid and powerful finish towards the end if required. And, if India lose early wickets, his genuine batting ability and technique can always help him to look after himself and rebuild an innings.