Competition for spots in India's top five is tough, with Kedar Jadhav, KL Rahul, and Ajinkya Rahane all angling for positions. However, Manish Pandey has made a strong case that he ought to be invested In - or at least trialled - for a little longer after a half-century in his first ODI since October during the visitors' 168-run win over Sri Lanka on Thursday.
Pandey had begun his international career brightly, against Zimbabwe and Australia, before losing a little rhythm against New Zealand last October. It is the emphatic manner in which he has regained his form, however, that not only caught the selectors' eye, but also put him in good stead to perform in this match. In five one-day innings for India A in South Africa during July and early August, Pandey struck 307 runs and was dismissed only once to finish as the leading scorer in the tri-series with South Africa A and Afghanistan A. Pandey says the performances there helped him to arrive in Sri Lanka feeling good about his game.
"It definitely does really help a lot when you know that you have some runs in the bank," he said, referring to his returns in South Africa. "You know you will eventually get a chance in the ODI side and you have to wait patiently for the chance. When you get it, you just bat the way you have been batting.
"Through the India A series, I batted very similar to the way I batted today. So it was not too different for me to come back. I have been batting well in the nets and I just had to watch the ball and play."
Coming in at No. 6, Pandey batted perhaps one spot lower than he expected to after Hardik Pandya was sent in at No. 4 in the 30th over as India attempted to capitalise even further on a 219-run second-wicket stand between Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. Nevertheless, Pandey said he had planned to begin batting at around the 35th over, which is exactly when he entered after Hardik and Rohit were dismissed by Angelo Mathews off consecutive deliveries. Pandey spent 19 balls getting to double figures, and had scored only in singles until the 42nd over. All this, also, went roughly as he had hoped.
"I had a chat with Ravi [Shastri] yesterday and even today before the start of the game, about how I take some time before I start playing my natural game," Pandey said. "I need to take at least six to 10 balls to know what the wicket is like. It was spinning a bit, when the middle order got out. There were wickets falling on the other side but I had to keep my calm and rotate the strike. Eventually it came off for me."
India did, in fact, suffer a mild middle-order stutter, losing three wickets inside three overs for 12 runs, as Rahul fell in the 37th. So good had the stand between Kohli and Rohit been that they were always going to get a commanding score. But that they eventually reached the mammoth 375 for 5, however, was thanks to the unbeaten 101-run sixth-wicket stand between Pandey and MS Dhoni, which came off 74 deliveries. Pandey's share in it was 45 off 32 balls - Dhoni hitting 49 not out off 42 in his 300th ODI.
"I have played a few games with [Dhoni] already now, and I know how he plays," Pandey said. "I know how he likes to rotate strike. I like to bat with somebody who loves to do that. Occasionally we get some boundaries and that's how we keep the scoreboard ticking. With Mahi bhai, you are always on your toes and he keeps giving you advice."