The biggest takeaway on the part of team management from the third T20I against Sri Lanka was providing the opportunity to Sanju Samson and Manish Pandey to not just feature in the playing XI but also go ahead of skipper Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer in the batting lineup. But while Samson failed to grab the golden chance, in what was his second international career break, Pandey made the most of it and in a way solidified his chances for World T20 in October in Australia.
Pandey has been a regular for the Indian cricket team in the T20I setup. Barring the Australia series at home and the series in New Zealand earlier in 2019, Pandey has been part of every T20I squad for India since the start of 2018. But despite impressive performances in limited opportunities and decent IPL seasons in 2018 and 2019, Pandey had been rested for crucial contests - in England and Australia in 2018. In 2019, he played only one full series (against West Indies) and one game in the Bangladesh contest at home.
The Sri Lanka series at home was looked upon as a contest to test back-up options, but the management went with the regulars for the first two games - openers was washed out and the Indore clash ended in favour of India.
Eventually, Pandey found his name in the playing XI for the 3rd T20I series and was also sent ahead of Kohli and Iyer in the batting lineup.
Pandey walked in at the 12th over when India were 106 for two following the dismissal of Samson. The wicketkeeper-batsman, who was playing his first international game for India since 2015, scored only six off two deliveries. With India strong in their innings buildup, Pandey's job was to play second fiddle to well-set KL Rahul who was en route to his half-century. But Laskshan Sandakan's double whammy in the 13th over saw both Rahul and Iyer depart.
Pandey too was as new to the innings as incoming batsman Kohli, who for the first time in his career walked in at No.6. Pandey got the partnership going a drive against a fullish ball between extra cover and mid-off against Lahiru Kumara before Kohli took charge an over later with a six into the sightscreen and a four down backward square leg against Angelo Mathews. The pair looked well set with 42 from 28 before another back-to-back dismissal troubled India's plan for a 200-plus.
Sri Lanka had eventually exposed the tail-enders and Pandey had Shardul Thakur at the other end of the crease. Pandey once again played the role of the anchor and allowed Shardul to flourish, who scored eight-ball 22.
The 30-year-old did play the role of an anchor throughout the game, but he ended with 31 runs off 18 deliveries. He scored four boundaries, three of which came in the final three overs, had only two dot balls and zero false shots in his entire knock on Friday. He was elegant with his stroke play and aptly used the front foot to clear the ropes down the leg side.
Pandey played a crucial role in guiding India to 201/6 and later inflicted a run-out and picked up the important catch of Mathews in the second innings.
"Coaches told me somewhere down the line I will get a game and I have to be ready for it. Luckily, I got my chance today and got a good partnership with Shardul. I will keep pushing. I have been batting well in domestic cricket, Syed Mushtaq Ali was good for me as well as Karnataka. I was batting well in the nets as well, somewhere I knew, I will get my chance and I have to be ready. I had to deliver and I did. I have been working on my off-side game in the nets and these things help you in the matches too," Pandey said after India's 78-run win.