In 2009, a 20-year-old Manish Pandey, then playing for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, became the first Indian player to score a century in the Indian Premier League. Pandey was the talk of the town, with praise being heaped on the youngster who was high on the wave of success. It was easy for any youngster in his shoes to get carried away and he did with the belief that spot in the Indian side wasn't too far away. But as fate has it, it was. His One-Day International debut for India only came six years after in 2015 in Zimbabwe after a successful domestic season in 2014. Between 2009 and '14, there was little that Pandey could boast of.
"I was thinking I would play for India soon," said Pandey on Tuesday (April 10). "I had a good first-class season also after the IPL and I was too eager to play for India. And when that does not happen, sometimes you get disappointed. But I've learnt that this is a part of the game because there's a lot of competition and everyone's looking to break in somewhere, somehow. For me to realise that, and thereafter putting in that continuous hardwork and effort on whatever I did and whatever little things would help me become a better cricketer I started doing, and eventually I thought I was in a good space. And when I started playing for India, everything came through.
"It was a good start to get a first century back in 2009. After that I only remember the good innings after 2014 where I did well in the domestic circuit. It's always nice to come back on track and put in that hard work, knowing that you had to put that hardwork to live that dream that you always had to play for India. I think that's what I did. There was a consistent effort from my side to improve my game in batting, fielding and my fitness, which I've done in all these years," he added.
Pandey began his IPL career with the Mumbai Indians in 2008, sharing the dressing room with his childhood hero Sachin Tendulkar, before moving to RCB and subsequently Kolkata Knight Riders, before SRH this season. He has come a long way since his first taste of the IPL and all that it brings, but he believes that while the IPL provides as good a platform as domestic cricket does in terms of exposure for youngsters, the actual value lies in picking brains of the legends who they are in such proximity with.
"The first year of IPL, I was with Mumbai Indians and then if you see Sachin, who I've looked up to all my life, you obviously are in awe. I was initially, but I think the mistakes that people make is not being able to talk to the guys they can get something out of. Ten years ago, things were different, now they're different. Now if you were an Under-19 guy who comes in and meets someone like Dhoni, you wouldn't be as jittery as someone would've been 10 years ago.
"I think the sooner they get out of it (being awestruck) and try to learn things from the senior guys (it) would be really beneficial because I've seen some of the youngsters making this mistake of not being able to communicate with the guys and eventually losing out on their own cricketing sense. As an advice, the youngsters should come up and start talking and communicating with the guys to know their cricket better which will eventually help them become better cricketers."
Pandey is older, wiser and a better cricket now with better match awareness. His exploits in the IPL, where in 104 matches he has 2215 runs at 28.39 and a strike-rate of just over 120, and for India where he is an automatic selection in the XI. It is a role that he is at ease with and in a set-up where he has found his comfort zone already.
"It feels nice to be a part of this team. So far the experience has been really good. The support staff to start with, and the owners and the players, everyone are coming together and trying to create a great atmosphere for all the guys coming in. I think it's one of the better teams in the IPL in terms of players and the franchise itself.
"The middle order is every team's go-to option sometimes when the top order fails. We have me, Yusuf bhai (Pathan) and (Deepak) Hooda coming in and we have one of the better middle orders in the tournament. I think it's as important as any of the roles given to all the XI guys. I'm happy and safe in the place that I am in right now. We (Tom Moody and him) had a chat about him being very happy with the Indian middle order that we got this time to back the heavy top order. As you saw in the last game, they did the job for us. We have to wait patiently for our chances to prove ourselves. We are ready, we had a very good practice session and the practice games. I feel good and comfortable with these guys here and knowing we have a good top order and backed up with very good middle order to finish games for us."
Dedication, teamwork and enjoying each other's success, are what Pandey believes would be the key to SRH winning the title this year. Having been part of KKR and now SRH - both of who have been champions in the past, and what these sides do differently when compared to those that are still seeking their maiden titles, he narrowed it down to the finer things.
"I think what they do different is no matter what, they put in the hard work, even in the practice matches, even in the practice sessions that we have, the smallest of details, even in our training sessions, and everyone being very professional. If some team does that on a consistent basis, it helps them to become a champion someday. It's a matter of time. As I said, working hard as a team, as a group and understanding each other's role and enjoying each other's success is very important for a champion side."