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Neglected star of IPL shows touch of class

Sharjah: UAE fans have been pleasantly surprised by a young Indian who hasn’t played Test, one-dayers or even Twenty20 cricket for India but keeps on scoring heavily in the Indian Premier League (IPL) matches.

Manish Pandey, the one-drop batsman of the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) team, stands out even among foreign players with his brilliant strokes. He cracked 64 in Kolkata’s first match against Mumbai Indians in Abu Dhabi and followed it with an elegant 48 runs against Delhi Daredevils in Dubai.

In four out of the last five IPL matches Pandey has scored more than 25 runs to prove himself one the tournament’s most consistent batsman.

Pandey is only 24 and though he was part of the India under-19 team in 2008, he did not get much of a chance to play, even though he is the first Indian to score a century in the IPL, when in May 2009 he hit an unbeaten 114 for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) against Deccan Chargers at Centurion.

Though many times he has come close to getting a call into the Indian team, somehow he ran out of luck. In 2011, he even won the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) award for best batsman in domestic cricket for scoring 882 runs in nine Ranji Trophy matches. Last year in the Duleep Trophy quarter-final he even hit a double century.

When asked about his string of superb batting displays in the IPL, Pandey said: “It’s been a long IPL journey. KKR has been very kind so far, the management and the players have all been very supportive. We won the first game, little bad luck on this one, but hoping for a better season and lots of runs to come.”

Talking about his days with RCB, Pandey said: “The second year with RCB was one of the good years I had in the IPL, including Champions League and everything. Three years with Pune, where I looked a little shaky, I was not very consistent. About franchises, it’s not as if this is good and this is not so good. It’s completely on the player, how you take it, and I think this is how it’s supposed to be. At KKR, I am very happy, it’s a fresh start and I hope to do what I can for the team.”

Pandey is confident that his team will bounce back from the defeat. “The way we started was on the slower side, but that was the plan because we lost two early wickets and could not afford to lose another one quickly. If you say 167 on the board, it wasn’t a small target. But it’s a T20 game and you never know what happens. Two crucial overs we gave away about 15 to 20 runs. I thought we would win the game but after Morkel’s over, which was pretty unfortunate for us though he tried really hard, JP [Duminy] batted really well, and that’s where I thought we might have lost it.”

Pandey is also confident that his skipper Gautam Gambhir, who scored two consecutive ducks in the first two matches, will strike form soon.

“We all know what a player he is and when he gets going what he does. So obviously it’s you can say he has been a bit unlucky. This does not happen generally – getting caught at leg slip. But we are all waiting that Gauti bhai starts getting runs as soon as possible, which will definitely help the team.”