India v South Africa: Manish Pandey relishes No. 5 challenge

A little less than nine years ago, it was at the SuperSport Park in Centurion when a young Manish Pandey first burst into limelight, becoming the first Indian batsman to score a century in the Indian Premier League (IPL). He would go on to become a toast among the franchises with team owners dishing out every applicable reward in the book to lure him to their respective teams.
Nine years have gone by and Pandey - now 28 going on 29 - is still busy making an effort to be a more regular member in this Indian team. On Wednesday, when the Nainital-born batsman scored a defining knock to keep India in the game, it was reminiscent of an earlier innings at the same venue that he still remembers.
"Yeah, I was waiting to play here. Even in the ODIs I was trying to squeeze my chances in, but that didn't happen. Centurion has always been good to me. I still remember the hundred I got here. So, it is a good top up there," he said, trying to see humour in what has otherwise been a gritty exercise in earning those 'chances' and making the most of them.
"Sometimes I feel that because I bat at No. 5," he says, before drifting away, when asked about him having been around for a while and having missed opportunities. "I could also probably do a little bit more with myself," he goes on, before adding "but as you know that India has a really good top order and the top 3 finish batting 30-35 overs with the guys like Virat and Mahi (Dhoni) coming ahead of me".
Opportunities like the one on Wednesday don't come along very often and Pandey is wary of that, knowing he's got to make the most of what comes his way. "Some more chances and I wish I can deliver more. I feel I can deliver a lot more than what I am doing right now," he says.
His half-century is a timely reminder of that.

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The No. 5 slot in this Indian team - be it the One-dayers or T20s - is one that's available and yet the one that's almost out of reach for batsmen who can't make the most of just those few opportunities coming their way. Knowing that there'll only be those many chances to make the most of, batsmen realise there's prospect and pressure in equal measure.
"I have to keep squeezing my chances in there. As I said, it is tough, playing at No. 5," says Pandey. "The people who have batted (in that position) before me, guys like Raina, Yuvi … it's tough to fill in their shoes and (in the present context), it has been a couple of years now that the batting line-up is doing really well. I think you have to be very patient for your chances and have to be prepared to go after the bowling from ball one," he adds, talking about making most of the opportunities.
Wednesday witnessed a rare top-order failure in recent weeks from India - especially with Kohli losing his wicket early - that gave Pandey an opportunity. Such opportunities, he realises, are few and that remains the case for most middle-order batsmen constantly knocking the doors and trying to make the cut.
For the Indian team management, given the road to 2019 and 2020, a problem of plenty could only be a welcome one.


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