Sunrisers Hyderabad must have breathed a sigh of relief when the exits of some of their overseas stars coincided with Manish Pandey finding form. He returned to the side against Chennai Super Kings, and has since strung together scores of 83*, 61 and 36.
This is seemingly the first time since joining the franchise last year that Pandey has played with a sense of freedom. His strike rate has shot up to 164, the boundaries are flowing with greater frequency - every 4.8 balls - and, at least for the moment, he has shelved the reputation of being a notoriously slow starter. Before he was benched, Pandey's strike rate for the first ten balls of his innings was just 89.7. Since returning, he has struck at 173.3 during the same period.
The question is, what is he doing differently? "I don't think it's a technical thing," coach Tom Moody said when asked on the eve of their match against Mumbai Indians.
"Manish came into the tournament in some good form, he didn't quite get going as he would have liked in the early part of the tournament, but I don't think his form and timing had deserted him."
Pandey amassed 331 runs and averaged 66.20 in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, India's domestic T20s that preceded the IPL. Stunningly, among the top fifty run-getters, his strike rate of 171.50 was the third highest after Sunrisers team-mate Ricky Bhui and Knight Riders' batsman Rinku Singh.
Moody went on: "I think, you know, he just didn't take the opportunities early on, that he should have taken. Maybe the time of reflection, when you're out of the side, can do someone a world of good and it certainly has with Manish. He has had that time out of the side and reflected on not so much a technical thing but maybe just his whole approach to his batting and he has come back all guns firing, which for me is a credit to him and a sign of the quality that he possesses."
Last year around this time, when Pandey was struggling for fluency, Moody told reporters in Hyderabad that it was due to the sluggish home surfaces that Pandey wasn't able to impress the people who were asking questions. But they, the Sunrisers management, were pretty happy with his short stint thus far. Curt perhaps, but not entirely untrue. In four of the seven matches in Hyderabad, the team batting first failed to cross 147, the pitch proving to be best to bat on against the new ball. For the middle order it was donkey work. In six innings at home, Pandey averaged 19 and his strike rate was down to 108.
The surfaces that he has batted on since returning to the side this year have certainly been better, but perhaps there's been another contributing factor: a promotion to No. 3.
On the face of it, ever since he was roped in by the franchise, that should have been his rightful position. But, contrary to popular belief that Pandey made a name for himself at No. 3 for Knight Riders, it was in fact at No. 4 that he truly prospered.
With Knight Riders designating Sunil Narine as their pinch hitter, everybody including Manish Pandey dropped one position down. Robin Uthappa was the new No. 3, and Pandey was left to negotiate the middle overs.
However, unlike Hyderabad, where surfaces have tended to be unpredictable and often two-paced, rendering the middle phase of the innings the hardest to bat, the re-laid Eden Gardens track was a batting beauty, if anything one that assisted seamers early before settling down.
That season in 2017, Pandey batted at No. 4 on nine occasions, averaging nearly 57 and striking at 135, both better than Rohit Sharma; Rohit and Yuvraj Singh were the only two players to have played more innings in that position that season.
Besides, moving to Hyderabad meant playing in a side that, even without David Warner last year, had Shikhar Dhawan at the top and captain Kane Williamson occupying the No. 3 slot. This year, it was even harder to slot him at three when Sunrisers were at full strength. He had to wait his turn.