Had Ajinkya Rahane been fully fit, Manish Pandey in all likelihood would not have been part of India's playing XI for the final ODI against Australia. But as most brilliant cricketers do, Pandey seized the opportunity, in the most special manner, by pulling off a record run-chase when Team India's pride was at stake.
When he set the Indian Premier League on fire in 2009 by becoming India's first centurion in the tournament, which boasted of world-class cricketers, he was just 19. A lot was said and written about him apart from his favorite half flick half sweep stroke.
Though many Indian cricketers (some in oblivion now) went on to hit centuries in IPL, there was something special about Pandey's innings, not only because it was a historic knock, but also because he was attractive to watch. Despite being touted as the one to watch out for, little did we know that Pandey would have to wait for seven years to win praise from the game's stalwarts.
At Sydney, Pandey played an innings of substance without flashy strokes, yet getting India closer to the record run chase. And even when he hit a few in the air, they landed in no man's land, which proved they were well timed and not out of desperation.
Despite boasting of more shots in his repertoire, Pandey played most of his strokes on the off-side without bothering the fielder at midwicket, which once used to be his go-to zone.
MS Dhoni would have been very pleased to see someone bat in that manner, taking the match to the last over and finishing off things in style. Not often do we see Dhoni not hitting the winning runs when a match is stretched to its last over. But as the skipper struggled to find the middle of the bat for most part of his innings, Pandey didn't play a single silly stroke, at the same time kept rotating the strike.
The winning runs from Pandey's bat came as a huge sigh of relief for the Indian camp, and for a moment, fans forgot it was a dead rubber. Also with the memorable ton, Pandey broke the jinx as previously, five tons by Indian batsmen in the series had gone in vain.
Had it not been for that knock, Pandey might have struggled to find a regular place in ODIs for India, since he is not a part of the T20 squad in Australia and with a long T20 season ahead, and also with veterans coming back, there weren't many opportunities for him.
But with his stupendous ton, it would be impossible for the selectors to ignore him for ICC World T20 to be held in India in March.
Not that he has replaced Rahane with that one knock, but Pandey's 104-run knock at the Sydney Cricket Ground, will be fondly remembered as one of the finest when we recall India's epic chases.
Soon after scoring his maiden international ton, Pandey posted a collage on Facebook and Twitter, which comprised comments from Indian stalwarts hailing his match-winning knock. Now that he has proved his mettle at the biggest stage, let's hope this wonderful cricketer shares more such photographs going forward.