With KL Rahul struggling to make an impression in the middle order and veterans Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina dropped, this could be the best opportunity for Manish Pandey to stake his claim for a place in India's playing eleven.
After scoring a fine half-century in his comeback match, in the fourth ODI against Sri Lanka in Colombo on Thursday, India's middle-order batsman Manish Pandey said his main aim is to keep scoring runs whenever he gets an opportunity and push for a permanent berth in the playing eleven.
"Middle order is where I bat. Starting from No. 4 to No. 6, I have batted at different positions for India. I have to be ready for whatever spot I get. So if I get a chance then I need to get some runs and cement that spot for myself first," Pandey said after India crushed Sri Lanka by 168 runs in Colombo on Thursday to take a 4-0 lead in the five-match series.
"Then if you keep performing and you keep playing better, then maybe you come one up in the order. So that will be my goal to fix a spot or two for myself, stay there at the end and win games for India," he added.
Pandey scored a quickfire 50 not out from 42 balls, hitting four boundaries, and added 101 runs for the sixth wicket with Mahendra Singh Dhoni (49) to provide the boost in the death overs for India.
"Even 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 and think about it like it was my first game in a long time. I have been batting well in the nets and I just had to watch the ball and play," he added.
Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma slamed hundreds, putting on 219 runs for the second wicket to power India to a massive 375 for five after they had elected to bat.
"The start was really important for us. I think we did well given the fact that it was really hot. The guys were batting very well and were looking for boundaries.
"The way Virat and Rohit batted, getting their hundreds, I thought it allowed us to come back in the middle overs (after the collapse) and look for boundaries. It was a little easier for us in the end," Pandey said.
"My mindset was to spend some time on the wicket first, like how many balls I should take initially. I need to take at least 6-10 balls to know what's the wicket like. It was spinning a bit when the middle-order got out but as I said there was a plan to spend some time and eventually it came off well for me. There were wickets falling on the other side but I had to keep my calm and rotate the strike," he added.
India lost their way after both Kohli and Sharma got out. They lost four wickets for 49 runs, but batting in his 300th ODI, Dhoni helped guide the finishing overs with Pandey. In the afternoon, Kohli had gifted Dhoni a platinum bat-memento to mark the occasion.
"To play 300 ODIs is a lot of experience. Like half the things you have probably learnt are by way of looking at the way Dhoni conducts himself. It is inspirational, especially for a guy like me who started my career under him, so it's always good to be there and learn from him," said Pandey.
"I have played a few games with him already. I know how he plays. I know how he likes to rotate strike. I like to bat with somebody who loves to do that. Occasionally we get some fours and that's how we keep the scoreboard ticking. With Mahi bhai, you are always on your toes and he keeps giving you advice," he added.
One of the key points of this collapse was KL Rahul's failure to score big once again. Batting in the middle order, he has scores of 4, 17 and 7 but Pandey backed him to come good with some advice to boot.
"Rahul is used to batting in the top order and the game is a little different there. It is on him to come out of this situation again. Perhaps he has to understand how the middle overs go because he always opens the batting and suddenly you are batting after 30 overs, you need some time.
"Maybe as he plays more matches batting in the middle order, he will get used to it. Even I was found it difficult when I was batting at No. 6, because I was coming after 40 overs and I was used to batting at No. 4 when batting comes after 25 overs.
"So it always takes time, and the faster you learn and the better batsman you become and I think that's what I have done," said Pandey.
The Karnataka batsman came into the team after India decided to experiment with their reserve players having sealed the series 3-0.
Pandey, who came in for Kedar Jadhav, said there was no pressure on him and he took his time before he started to play a few shots.
"I had a chat with Ravi bhai (Shastri) yesterday and even today before the start of the game about how I take some time before I start playing my natural game. So that's what my plan was. I got my batting after the 35th over where again one wicket fell and me and Mahi bhai were there.
"The way we batted was pretty good and it helped us through to a big total. Message from the team management was to just play my natural game. Try and spend some time in the middle.
"I was also waiting for this chance and I am glad that I got it now. I have to try and use these chances as much as possible to help myself become a permanent member of this team and win games for India," Pandey said.
Image: Manish Pandey
Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters