Pandey looks to make lasting first impression
"Excited, but there are butterflies in the stomach."
For Manish Pandey, the moment he has been waiting for is nearly here. With several senior players rested, Pandey was named in India's 15-man squad for the upcoming tour of Zimbabwe. It wasn't his first India call-up. Last year, after playing a starring role in Kolkata Knight Riders' IPL triumph, Pandey was included in the squad for a one-off Twenty20 international against West Indies. However, that series was aborted mid-way and Pandey's wait for an India cap was extended.
Pandey's journey in top-flight cricket began as a member of the Indian Under-19 team that won the World cup in 2008 under Virat Kohli. A year later, he became the first Indian to score a century in the IPL. Over the last seven years, Pandey has built a strong first-class career, averaging over 50 after 70 matches, with 15 tons, but an international debut never materialised.
"It was a little heartbreaking first time because it was my first call-up and the game didn't happen," Pandey told ESPNcricinfo. "But it's not in in my control. This is going to be a really good opportunity for me to prove my mettle and try and be a part of the Indian team for a long time."
Unlike last season, IPL 2015 wasn't quite as rewarding for Pandey. Knight Riders failed to qualify for the knockout stages and even Pandey's own returns were underwhelming - 225 runs from 12 innings at an average of under 21. He made just one half-century, and believes that while he was batting well, the problem was his failure to kick on and notch bigger scores.
"This IPL I got a lot of 20s and 30s, I always felt I was batting well," he said. "There were times where I could have concentrated a little more. But I was batting pretty well, both in the first-class season and IPL, so maybe that's why I got the call-up. I am pretty happy with the way I am batting and look forward to doing better there."
While the IPL did not go too well, Pandey was the highest run-getter in the 50-over Vijay Hazare trophy that was played at the start of the domestic season. From seven matches, Pandey scored 472 runs at an average of 118, crossing the 50-run mark four times and going past triple figures on another occasion. It helped Karnataka to the title and earned him a place among the 30 probables for India's World cup squad. Pandey believes that success will hold him in good stead for the ODIs in Zimbabwe.
"It makes a lot of difference when you have a lot of runs backing you," he said. "You feel you are at the top of your game and batting really well. I would like to that as a confidence booster and just keep going forward."
The squad chosen for the Zimbabwe tour includes batsmen on the fringes of the ODI team such as Manoj Tiwary, Kedar Jadhav, Robin Uthappa and M Vijay. Pandey accepted that he was among this cluster of players competing for places when a full-strength squad is next chosen.
"There is always competition, that's the beauty of the game. It is my first experience, I will be waiting to play some games for the country and try and make my mark there. If I am able to do that I will be happy. That is what I should be focusing more on."
Having never played in Zimbabwe before, Pandey is hoping to lean on his coaches and more experienced team-mates to help him gauge the conditions better. He called Ajinkya Rahane, the captain for this series, "a nice guy" and said he will be "comfortable" batting wherever the team management wanted him to.
"It is a matter of time, there is a lot of competition," he explained. "You have to wait for your chances, mine is coming a little later than I was expecting, but its okay. My goal is to be in the Indian side for a long time. All three formats of the game are really important to me. It would be very nice to get the cap in all formats and hope for the best."
And what about those butterflies?
"It is the way I take it forward. It is just cricket after all, you just have to do what you have been doing and I will try and stick to that."
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75