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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Time running out for Manish Pandey to hold down spot in India's cricket XI

The 28-year-old batsman under pressure to justify talent on international stage after poor run of form and manner of dismissals against Australia.

Manish Pandey needs to show better judgement in order to succeed at the international level. Bikas Das / AP Photo
Manish Pandey needs to show better judgement in order to succeed at the international level. Bikas Das / AP Photo

Ian Chappell once said the older a player is making his international debut, the more difficult it is for him to succeed.

"Often good players who are left on the sidelines too long develop bad habits," Chappell, who captained Australia between 1970 and 1975, wrote in a 2011 column for ESPNCricinfo. "They don't find it sufficiently challenging to continually play at a lower level, and consequently there is a tendency to become sloppy."

Over the past decade, Chappell and his fellow Australians watched - one can only assume in frustration - as several players in their late twenties were handed the baggy green cap only to find themselves in the wilderness not more than a year or two later.

Chappell also marked Rohit Sharma for failure in Test match cricket, for precisely the reason he gave in his piece. He has been spot-on so far.

At 30, Rohit has represented India in just 21 Tests, a statistic that belies his talents with the bat, yet has featured in 165 one-day internationals. The difference? He made his one-day international (ODI) debut at the age of 20, which gave him enough time to make mistakes, get dropped and stage a successful comeback.

In contrast, he played in his first Test six years later, by which time he had become set in his ways.

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Michael Hussey and Misbah-ul-Haq have proved it is never too late to succeed at the highest level, but their careers are exceptions rather than examples.

This brings us to the curious case of India's No 4 batsman, Manish Pandey.

Pandey was only a few weeks away from celebrating his 20th birthday when he became the first Indian to score a hundred in the 2009 Indian Premier League Twenty20 competition. Yet it took another six years for the national selectors to be convinced he was good enough to play for his country.

Pandey's IPL hundred

He made a promising ODI debut, scoring a half-century under pressure and in difficult batting conditions, albeit against lowly Zimbabwe. Yet he found himself in and out of the squad over the next few months before he returned to score a century against Australia, in Australia, to help MS Dhoni's men win a very close game.

It was meant to be a breakthrough performance, but in subsequent matches Pandey made a habit of throwing away his wicket too early too many times.

His yields have therefore been low: just 350 runs from 16 appearances, not good enough for someone who has all the ingredients to enjoy a successful international career, as this writer pointed out a year ago.

In the one-day game, the No 4 is expected to play seam and spin just as well, be adept at building partnerships and know when to accelerate the scoring. The task requires talent, smarts and maturity.

Pandey has the wherewithal to tick all those boxes. But his problem has been sloppiness.

Manish Pandey was bowled out by Ashton Agar in the second one-day international against Australia in Kolkata. Bikas Das / AP Photo
Manish Pandey was bowled out by Ashton Agar in the second one-day international against Australia in Kolkata. Bikas Das / AP Photo

Considering he has crossed the 5,000-run mark in the domestic circuit for a top team like Karnataka, his soft dismissals in the first two one-dayers of the ongoing series at home against Australia are inexcusable.

In the first game, he poked at a Nathan Coulter-Nile delivery that swung away, and in the next match he was bowled by a quicker one from Ashton Agar. Neither ball was unplayable, but Pandey showed poor judgment, despite being aware he is a nervous starter who needs to get his eye in first.

It is yet unclear whether he will play in the third ODI, at Indore on Sunday.

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If he does, he will be under a huge amount of pressure to deliver, what with Lokesh Rahul waiting in the wings as a back up. If he does not, his younger state teammate will likely replace him and maybe even cash in.

Irrespective of what happens on Sunday, Pandey must know his international career is teetering on the edge.