The youngest centurion in IPL history. The first Indian to score an IPL ton. One of the most prolific run-getters in the country. A sublime stroke-maker. A domestic stalwart. A through-and-through match-winner. A complete batsman. A decade-old IPL veteran. A leader.
For the reasons mentioned above and more, it wasn’t a surprise that Sunrisers Hyderabad went all-in in the IPL 2018 auction to acquire the services of Manish Pandey for a sum of Rs 11 crore. A batsman thought to be at the peak of his powers, Pandey, on the back of his 396-run 2017 season with KKR, was seen by SRH as the final piece in their puzzle, which, at that point in time, already included David Warner, Shikhar Dhawan and Kane Williamson.
But three years on, the franchise are exactly where they were at the time of them acquiring Pandey - still unsure as to how to get the best out of the right-hander and still puzzled about his role in a top-heavy side.
In 8 matches thus far this season, Pandey has scored 206 runs - the third highest amongst SRH batsmen - at a pretty okay-ish average of 25.75. He has also, in this period, struck two fifties and has been one of the few SRH batters who has looked at ease at the crease everytime he’s walked out to bat. His stroke-making has been clean, his application has been stern and his maturity has been elite.
However, everytime he’s walked back to the pavilion, there has been an air of incompleteness over Pandey’s knocks. Watching him throw away his wicket, time and again, game after game, has often invoked the “You could have done so much more, Manish. This was your chance” emotion. It is the classic devil’s deal - he gets out early when he looks good and scores quick but he bats slow when he scores big.
So taking all factors into consideration, is SRH’s illimitable trust on Pandey - to the extent that he’s been given a push at No.3 at the expense of Kane Williamson batting at No.4 - really worth it? Numbers suggest that the Karnataka skipper might not be as valuable as the franchise thinks he is.
In 32 digs for Sunrisers Hyderabad, since the IPL 2018 season, Pandey has scored 834 runs at a pretty respectable average of 30.88 and an acceptable strike rate of 123.7. These figures are not bad by any means and are in fact an improvement on his overall IPL numbers, where he’s averaged 29.03 and has struck at 121.08. However, the Sunrisers have been hurt by the fact that on most occasions, Pandey has piggybacked on the success of the likes of Warner, Dhawan, Williamson, Bairstow and has failed to provide a cutting edge of his own.
But this has been a feature of his entire IPL career - Pandey did not magically degrade as a batsman after his switch to Hyderabad; barring the odd knock or two per season, the right-hander has never been a reliable commodity for any of the four franchises he’s played for.
In his 11-year long IPL career, the 31-year-old has boasted an average below 30 in seven seasons (min 5 matches) and the 2017 season, the season prior to his switch to SRH where he averaged 49.50, was in fact an anomaly.
Among the top 17 run-getters in IPL history, Pandey boasts the second worst average (29.03) and his strike-rate of 121.08 is in fact the worst amongst all, lower than even that of Ajinkya Rahane, who has struck at 121.53.
Thus there is an argument to be made that the Sunrisers, when they broke the bank for Pandey, knew exactly what they were getting, and just over-estimated the value of the right-hander.
His struggles this season have not been new, nor have they been surprising. There are a few factors that have ailed Pandey throughout the course of his IPL career: inability to find the right tempo for knocks, failure to capitalize on starts and close out the innings and the tendency to often tread the two extremes; i.e. too aggressive or too conservative. This season, too, the right-hander has found himself falling prey to the same demons that have consumed him for the past decade.
In both the knocks versus KKR and RR, where he posted gritty fifties, Pandey started off slowly and batted beyond the 15th over, but perished at just the worst time imaginable, in the awkward phase where it leaves the batsmen walking in with no time to bat their way into the game. Unsurprisingly, SRH went on to post below-par total in both matches and subsequently lost. But this has been a feature of Pandey’s batting in his entire 138-game in IPL career.
Of the 17 fifties Pandey has struck since the start of IPL 2010, he’s been dismissed under 65 a whopping 58.82% of the times (10/17) and in 6 of those 10 knocks, he has boasted a sub-145 strike rate. Coincidentally or not, his team went on to lose the game on 8 of the 10 aforementioned occasions (80%).
This tendency to not capitalize on starts or to play abhorrently slow have at times made Pandey a burden to his sides. Of the 72 15+ scores Pandey has notched up in the IPL since 2010, 32 times (44%) he has maintained a strike rate under 120 and on 12 of those 32 instances, he has batted at less than run-a-ball. These have significantly contributed to his pedestrian overall SR and have also earnt him the ‘Tuk tuk Pandey’ nickname on social media.
But while these knocks have served detrimental to the side, what has been Pandey’s Achilles Heel - and the number one roadblock in his career - has been his tendency to throw away starts.
In 120 knocks since the start of the IPL 2010, Pandey has been dismissed between 15 and 35 a staggering 36 times (30%) and, unfortunately for him, these are the knocks where he’s gotten off the blocks in rapid quick time and has looked in great touch. This year, for instance, in both the Mumbai Indians game in Sharjah and the Super Kings encounter in Dubai, he raced off to 30 (19) and 29 (21) looking like the best batsman on show, but inexplicably suffered a lapse in concentration and threw his wicket away to let slip two golden opportunities.
No.3, No.4 or No.5, Pune, Kolkata or Hyderabad, what has remained constant is Pandey’s consistency in mediocrity. Across franchises, and across positions, the 31-year-old has failed to carve an identity for himself and, as a result, has been a tier or two beneath the elites of the competition, despite being one of the most capped players in the tournament.
What’s becoming evidently clear is that by investing in Pandey - by batting him at No.3 ahead of Williamson - Sunrisers are wounding the side.
There is, of course, logic behind as to why they have done it. After underwhelming returns of 8*, 1, 19, 10 and 16 at positions 4 and 5 last season, Pandey finally clicked at No.3 last season, posting scores of 83*, 61, 36, 71*, 9 and 30 in the six opportunities he got in that position. So there was the natural inclination to give him another long run in the same spot. But as we’ve come to learn in the first half of this season, like so many Manish Pandey bursts over the last decade, the string of scores that came towards the fag end of the 2019 season was nothing but false dawn.
Pandey’s hit-and-miss run at the No.3 spot is also damning as it’s coming at the cost of pushing Kane Williamson, a ready-made world class No.3 batsman who has owned the spot for the side in the past, to No.4 and lower. Not only has Williamson batted and scored more at the No.3 slot (1,132 runs in non-T20Is) than any other position, but it was in that coveted spot that he scored 735 runs at SR of 142.44 to clinch the orange cap in the 2018 season. In fact, in his IPL career, No.3 has by far been the best slot for the Kiwi skipper, with him averaging close to 40 and striking at 134 there.
It is criminal that across the six matches he has played this season, Williamson has got to face a total of just 106 balls - 39 of which came in the CSK game. In the six games he’s played this season, the Kiwi skipper has walked out to bat beyond the 11th over four times, and while he has done remarkably well to seamlessly slot into the finisher role - he’s been striking at 145 this season - it is preposterous and unacceptable on the management’s part to waste a world-class batsman by batting him out of position.
The Manish Pandey trust and experiment has run its due course, but the time might have just arrived for the Sunrisers to finally put an end to it. Batting at No.3 might give him the best chance to succeed, but whether the move is ultimately beneficial to the side is something the franchise needs to evaluate. As things stand, given the 11 crore has all but already gone down the drain, SRH perhaps would be better off, once again, playing musical chair with his batting position for the greater good.