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Manish Pandey
Manish Pandey

Middle-order batsman Ajinkya Rahane has been ruled out of the fourth and fifth Tests against England witha finger injury. Karnataka batsman Manish Pandey replaced Rahane in the squad, while Shardul Thakur was brought in as back-up for Mohammad Shami, who had a sore knee.

Pandey had to be pulled out of ongoing Ranji Trophy matches and flown to Mumbai. Pandey was playing against Maharashtra in Mohali.

The BCCI said Rahane had suffered “an avulsion fracture on his right index finger” after getting hit by a ball during a practice session on the eve of the Mumbai Test. He managed only 63 runs in five innings in this series. The board also said that Shami’s fitness was being monitored and a decision on his inclusion in the XI would be taken on the morning of the match.

Shami has had trouble with his leg since the start of the series, when he was seen clutching his hamstring on the first day in Rajkot. The team management, however, said he was merely suffering from cramp and he continued to play the remainder of that Test and those that followed in Visakhapatnam and Mohali. Shami was especially potent with reverseswing, taking 10 wickets at an average of 25.20.

Ajinkya Rahane
Ajinkya Rahane

Pandey, Rahane’s replacement in the squad, had himself hurt his finger while playing a Ranji Trophy game in November. He returned to action last week, making 75 and 58 against Saurashtra. Thakur, meanwhile, has been a more consistent presence this season, claiming 13 wickets in six matches, including a six-wicket haul against Bengal last week. He had been picked in the 17-man squad for the four-Test tour of the West Indies in July-August, but did not get a game.

Not too long ago, a cricket site ran a poll asking its users to vote for the player they were going to watch out for in the upcoming Ranji Trophy season. The options were Shreyas Iyer, Karun Nair, Manish Pandey, Kuldeep Yadav, Nathu Singh or any other player.

When around 30000 voters voiced their opinion, Pandey led the chart with an astonishing 58.6% of the votes. The next best -Iyer -has just 13.8% votes going his way.

There’s a reason so many people are keen to see Pandey do well. Right from the day he became the first Indian player to score a century in the Indian Premier League, his cricketing stocks have sky rocketed. There’s a certain flair with which he plays, that gives you the impression that he is destined for greater things. On Wednesday (December 7), Pandey earned his maiden call-up to the Indian Test side, replacing the injured Ajinkya Rahane for the fourth and fifth Tests against England.

The punchy style of play, the use of cricket bat as a magic wand helps him flay bowlers with ease. The century in the 2009 IPL made people realise that a young flamboyant batsman had arrived. That season he averaged 59.75 in first-class cricket. Things haven’t slipped since then. His average hasn’t dropped below 40 in the last six season and he has established himself as one of the vital cog in the Karnataka wheel. In between all this, there was the 94 in the IPL final against Kings XI Punjab that led Kolkata Knight Riders to the title.

Both Pandey and Karun Nair, his Karnataka and now India Test teammate, have solid numbers in first-class cricket but the former’s chances of making the Test team could’ve been scuppered by the fact that he was pigeonholed as a limited-overs specialist. However, Pandey’s expressive nature can work best in the longest format as well, and he’s well aware of that. “When someone is in between a good run, it’s very important to prolong that patch as much possible. Yes, there will be times when you’ll get unlucky but it’s very important to keep grinding, keeping that positive mindset, staying on the wicket, getting those runs for the team and winning the matches,” he had told Cricbuzz, before the start of the domestic season.

The season turned out to be a landmark one for Pandey. He was called up as a replacement for Ajinkya Rahane for the fourth and fifth Tests against England. He might not even get a chance to realise his dream and play a Test in this series, but you can safely assume he would be itching to get out there. It adds to his chances that Virat Kohli prefers exactly the kind of batsman Pandey is quick between the wickets, busy when on strike and spectacular on their field.

Parthiv Patel
Parthiv Patel

“You need to be thinking that you have to emerge as the hero for the team and if you keep thinking about that, it happens. That’s what I focus on. I’ve always been an aggressive batsman. I love to play my shots and keep the scoreboard moving. I’ve not changed my game since my Under-19 days. That’s something I’ve always stuck to and that was majorly because I was confident that this is what works best for me.”

Pandey is a relatively new face in the Indian setup, having made his international debut alongside other prospects in Zimbabwe last July. An impressive debut earned him a trip to Australia this January, where he cracked a match-winning hundred. Pandey admitted that the tour of Australia was hugely beneficial in his growth as a batsman.

“I was in Australia for 47 days and I felt really good every time I wanted out to bat. That’s what I’m talking about. That confidence. You need to take it with you when you go out. There’s no room for doubt.”

“Every time you got to bat, you learn something new. For a batsman that’s the most basic thing and the most important thing I feel. As a kid you have a lot more ambitions and you want to try various things. As you get older, and you’ve batted enough, you know this is how your game has shaped and this is what you need to do. For me, now the only aim is to learn for as long as possible.”

Pandey might still only warm the bench in the Tests against England, but the fact that the selectors have considered him is a shot in the arm for the promising tyro.

Parthiv Patel will retain the wicketkeeping gloves for the fourth Test between India and England in Mumbai after the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) confirmed on Tuesday (December 6) that Wriddhiman Saha is still recuperating from the strain in his left thigh.

Saha, who has been advised rest, picked up the strain during the second Test in Visakhapatnam, subsequently missing the third Test in Mohali.

Parthiv, who made a comeback into the Test squad after eight years, opened in Mohali, replacing the injured KL Rahul, and scored 42 and a 67 not out in the two innings respectively.

Additionally, Ishant Sharma, has been released from the squad due to his wedding coinciding with the fourth Test. Ishant wasn’t considered for the first Test as he was recovering from chikungunya, the mosquito-borne disease, but was named for the following two Tests, even though Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav were picked ahead of him.