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Feature

Karnataka's Manish Pandey: 'This is where I look forward to coming back the most. I'm at my best here'

Ahead of his 95th first-class game, Manish Pandey on his experiences and learnings playing for - and captaining - Karnataka

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
05-Jun-2022
Manish Pandey hit 525 runs in the Vijay Hazare Trophy at an average of 105

Manish Pandey is all set for his 95th first-class match  •  Getty Images

Manish Pandey made his first-class debut for Karnataka in 2008-09 as a teenager, straight out of a victorious Under-19 World Cup campaign under Virat Kohli's captaincy. Fourteen years on and having been a part of two Ranji Trophy title-winning teams, he's hoping to lead Karnataka into another final. Ahead of their quarter-final against Uttar Pradesh, which starts on Monday, Pandey spoke with select media about the team's transition, his role and much more.
For Mumbai, a season is unsuccessful if they don't make the final. How does Karnataka measure success?
Coming to the final is always a goal. And then to win the trophy. That is what we always strive for. It's not just for Karnataka, but overall too. Cricket is a results-oriented game, the better we do the better things are spoken about us. Qualifying for the knockouts is something we spoke about prior to the start of the tournament, and now that we have reached here, our goal will be to play each game at 100% and look to win the final which we haven't done in a few years now [not since 2014-15, when they completed back-to-back Ranji triumphs].
The quarter-final against Uttar Pradesh will be your 95th first-class game. How do you reflect on this journey?
Personal performances do affect you sometimes, but whenever Karnataka doesn't qualify for the knockouts or win, which we haven't done for a while, that bothers me as a player. The goal as a group has been to develop a good bunch of players for years to come, that is something we are looking to do as a team. There will be highs and lows, but I think I have done fairly well to be a part of this team [for a long time]. One thing is clear to all: no one is indispensable. This cap never came free to anyone. We have all worked hard for it. That hard work and [hunger] keeps me going even today. I will play my 95th game with the same intensity as my first.
You've played first-class cricket since 2008. At 32, what is the key driver for you?
Striving for success, to better yourself and the team. I don't want to be someone who lets down the team. That is something that motivates me and keeps me going. At Karnataka, we work equally on our fitness as our skills. The bunch of new guys we've got are among the fittest. The goal is to see they're all willing and capable [to contribute] and put in the hard yards. It's great to see this young and fit bunch of players looking to do well for Karnataka.
"My intent is to get runs, whether its red-ball or white-ball cricket. Not much changes. In red-ball cricket if you see, my strike rate is slightly on the higher side. I'm always looking for runs."
Manish Pandey on the transition from T20 to first-class cricket
As a batter, you're coming in from a hectic T20 season. How much will it take to adjust to the red-ball format now?
The only thing that remains constant is intent while batting. My intent is to get runs, whether its red-ball or white-ball cricket. Not much changes. In red-ball cricket if you see, my strike rate is slightly on the higher side. I'm always looking for runs. Other players may have different ways of coping [moving] from T20 to red-ball cricket, but for me it's about looking for runs, staying in a positive frame of mind. That keeps me going.
When you play for Karnataka, it seems like you have an extra batting gear.
Whenever I come back from the IPL or a long tour, this is where I look forward to coming back the most. I feel I'm at my best here [Karnataka set-up] with the coaching staff and players we've got. Also, the added responsibility as captain means you have to be in the driving seat and steer the team. I like the extra responsibility; it helps me and helps ensure the XI guys we've got always give 100% to make Karnataka a better team.
How do you plan for opponents?
Whoever the opposition is, whether they are stars or no, we don't look at it that way. We've got a lot of star players too, who've done well for years and years. As batters, we watch the ball, not the bowler. That is our motto. Better the team, better the cricket they get out of us. It gives us the added push.
This is a team in transition. With hardly any first-class games over the last two years [due to the pandemic], it must have been a challenge to prepare players.
The kind of cricket everyone plays at the junior level, we expect them to play a similar brand of cricket at the Ranji level too. You don't need to come here and change a lot. As senior players and coaches, our job is to make them feel comfortable on this platform. If you can do that, you can get the best out of the players. It's about communication and how the coaches make them feel. The treatment everyone gets here - all of us are on the same page. It's about making them feel comfortable and part of the team. If that doesn't happen with a new player, if the communication isn't good, you've seen how a lot of people have lost out in the past. That is a mistake we don't want to make. For this game, we have called up a youngster called Kishan Bedare. We asked him of his plans, the way he plays, what he likes to do and the kind of role he wants. If you can do that, you don't need a lot of time to make a good XI. That's how we roll.
"I put in the same amount of hours [into fielding] as my batting. I love giving myself that extra push and fire to make us a better fielding unit, which can contribute in a large way to the team's success."
Manish Pandey on his focus on fielding
Without the retired trio of Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun and S Aravind, and with Prasidh Krishna sitting out the quarter-final due to workload management, the pace-bowling attack has combined experience of four matches...
We've never had a problem [in the fast-bowling department]. We are at a stage where when the senior guys left, we saw young fast bowlers coming in and do well. Yes, they don't have a lot of games under their belt, but they have done well in the games we've given them.
We've seen you dive around and dedicate as much time to your fielding as your batting. Is this something you impress upon the rest of the team too?
I can't bowl 140kph. So, I'd rather give myself time and effort to something I can do for the team collectively. Fielding is a crucial part of cricket and I really enjoy doing it and ensure I pull a few guys along to make them go a step higher with the fielding. I put in the same amount of hours [into fielding] as my batting. I love giving myself that extra push and fire to make us a better fielding unit, which can contribute in a large way to the team's success. If you can do that, you can lead by example, and I love doing that.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo