Indian cricket is going through a crucial phase. The Tour of England is starting in a few days time while the T20 World Cup is only a few months away. The Indian Premier League (IPL) 2022 also saw several players hitting top form like Hardik Pandya. Former Indian cricket team player Sanjay Manjrekar, in an exclusive interview with NDTV, talked one various relevant topics in Indian cricket.
Q: Hardik Pandya is leading the team for the first time. Your assessment of Pandya as a captain and do you think that we will see him more often now, leading Team India in the white ball format?
Sanjay: I was actually amazed by the performance of Hardik Pandya- the captain and the all-rounder as well. Before the IPL if you remember, the couple of years that he had with Mumbai Indians, there was the fitness issue, he wasn’t bowling at all for Mumbai Indians; his batting was a bit scratchy, hardly played any International cricket. So it was a huge gamble for Gujarat Titans to have him as one of the marquee players, plus given the captaincy. He had no track record as captain. But that gamble paid off massively. The fact that he looked like he was enjoying captaincy, he was so happy, relaxed. We saw Mayank Agarwal being a little too intense, so I guess that is one real positive. This is a guy in a high pressure league like IPL, where the stakes are high, yet so relaxed in the crunch moments.
Q: What about Hardik the player? Do you think looking at him now he’s back in full fitness, he is ready to you know go the distance when it comes to bowling as well?
Sanjay: I think that question mark will always remain about his bowling. In the last game, for India, he didn’t bowl at all, they bowled him a little in the early part of the series against South Africa. So that aspect of Hardik Pandya is always going to be a bit of a question mark and overall fitness as well. But, you know, when he’s in full flow, like he was in the IPL, you can see a lot packed into this guy as a batter. And then when he bowls, his four overs, it measures up because he’s got a way of assessing the pitch and the batter as well. So when he’s in full fitness, he is good enough to be the best bowler in the side as well. Just imagine somebody like Hardik Pandya, if fully fit is your go to bowler. While the others were going to the cleaners he showed you on occasion that he was able to curb the runs, get to the wickets as well, plus the kind of batting talent that he has. So then when you have the whole package, then you just you’re sort of staggered by how much value this guy can add.
Q: Talking about his good friend KL Rahul, injuries seem to be happening to him at wrong moments. He had been pretty special for India when they last toured UK
Sanjay: Yes. You know, Ireland is not such a big issue. But England, India will miss KL Rahul. In the early bit of the series that was played in August, September, you saw India do well because of KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma. Even though the team had some batting issues in the middle, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul were the Saviours. Rahul getting to a 100 at Lord’s as well. So he not being there for India in the one-off Test is a huge, huge setback. This is a guy that India was relying heavily on even in South Africa, he managed to be very good at the top of the order. So yes, KL Rahul not being available is horrible timing, especially because before this series hinges on that last test match.
Q: I’ll have to ask you about your India’s chances. When India was there last, England meekly surrendered to them. But right now, under the leadership of Ben Stokes, they seem to have found new energy, how would you India matches up against them?
Sanjay: England is a better side now, and it’s something Rahul Dravid also has alluded to, I think it’s a better side than the one that India played last time around in the early bit of the series. There are two three reasons for that. One is Ollie Pope is getting into his zone, Joe Root is in the form of his life. Ben Stokes is back. And he has a very unique ability to make the contribution in crunch moments. He’s not somebody who’ll get you runs every Test match, or get wickets every inning. But come the big game like that last test against New Zealand when he got a 75 not out to win the game! That’s when Ben Stokes comes into the zone. So that is the little difference that a player makes to a team winning or losing. Ben Stokes is always right in the middle of that particular moment. So from that standpoint, India will know, they’ve got a slightly stronger England this time.
Q: Let me ask you who from India can be that X-Factor like Ben Stokes?
Sanjay: Rishabh Pant! I know Rohit Sharma is there at the top, there’s Virat Kohli, and other great batters. Pujara’s defiance is there, there’s some good bowling in Shami and Bumrah. They will be game changes with the ball. But in his very short career test career Rishabh Pant has notched up three great Test innings and in different conditions, different oppositions. So you’re like Ben Stokes, if you’ve got to look at one player from India, you almost won India game South Africa as well, with that 100 that he got, Pant is the man. If England’s got Ben Stokes then India’s got Rishabh Pant.
Q: But given his current form, are you still that confident in white ball cricket, you are still confident that in red ball cricket he could make the difference?
Sanjay: Yes, because the formats are different. And so far, we’ve seen that Rishabh Pant has been a formidable Test player. While he’s been putting together all the exceptional performances at the Test level, his white ball batting has not been quite up there. So there’s a disconnection almost between his performance in white ball cricket versus red ball cricket. This is a guy makes an impact playing Test cricket, because he goes about things very differently. He’s not pushed to start hitting straightaway. So there’ll be occasions where he will be playing or 20 dot balls, and then hit three sixes depending on the condition, the bowler at the opposite end. So I think the Test format allows Rishabh Pant to be a little more imaginative, allows him to be not pushed, he can take his time and decide when he wants to hit and which the moment to do it. So for the moment, it seems like the Test format provides the kind of setting that he seems to enjoy. Whatever happens in the white ball format, I don’t see that have any bearing at all on his performances at the Test level. We’ve seen that in the last two three years.
Q: From our bowling group, who is the one you are excited to watch, bowling in the English conditions?
Sanjay: All of them, and that is India’s great strength. We’ve seen Bumrah do well on the last leg of the tour. Mohammed Shami is always there you know, with wickets he can change the tide of the game. Umesh Yadav got six wickets in the one test match that he played in England, so he’s another option. Shardul Thakur seems like somebody who breaks partnerships and makes contributions with the bat as well. Very excited with Prasidh Krishna he seems to be the perfect kind of replacement for Ishant Sharma. I’m not sure when he will get a game, but India have their stocks well loaded. There’s also Mohammed Siraj. So yes, lot of options to pick from. It will be a headache for Dravid and Rohit to pick the three or four bowlers all for that Test match.
Q: Coming back to the T20I series against Ireland- how ideal is it to prepare for the T20 World Cup?
Sanjay: I like the fact that the team management in that last series against South Africa in the five matches didn’t change the playing 11. I thought that was a very unique way of using a series like this in preparation for the T20I World Cup. So the players that played in that team, in that playing 11 were guys that had very good look at it. I’m hoping that in Ireland, in these couple of games they are able to test the rest the guys and be certain on who are bound to make it into the T20 World Cup squad. So from that standpoint, I think the Ireland series is important to try out the new options that they have at their disposal. The other thing is, Ireland is foreign conditions. All these players in the T20 format that we got in the squad and the performances that we’re talking about has been in the subcontinent, the Indian Premier League played on Indian pitches India-South African on Indian pitches so you know. Let’s see how these guys adjust to the conditions in Ireland. Although English and Irish conditions are different from Australian, it will still be interesting to look at.
Q: One of the biggest stories this summer has been Dinesh Karthik’s return. Do you see him on the flight to Melbourne?
Sanjay: I think there’s a good chance that will happen because of him proving his worth. And that series against South Africa, especially in the last game (not the one that didn’t have a result), where he was the player of the match, striking 200 was a show of his ability. So yes, he is an extremely tempting option. There’ll be a few matches before the T20I World Cup so I guess he’ll have to keep reminding the selectors that he’s still relevant.
But it’s just amazing that this guy at this stage of his career has carved a niche for himself. I tweeted also about him where he is one of those rare players in fact one of the first players in the world in in T20 Cricket who actually is a specialist kind of cameo batter down the order. He is not somebody who will bat at number three or four and generally bat at number 5, 6, 7 and he will get a few overs, 15-20 balls to make a contribution. It makes such an impact. Now when you have somebody batting at that position and just getting those many balls like Pollard does, or some somebody like Hardik Pandya, when he used to bat lower down., they are another string to the bow. So Dinesh Karthik actually commands a place in this team for his cameo batting. With Pant as keeper and Dinesh Karthik in the team only as a batter just tells you the kind of work that he’s adding, which has been amazing!
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