A striker’s position is one of the most daunting and challenging roles in football. The role demands more than just goals, be it getting into the right space at the right time or skipping past the marker with a well-timed run. The striker’s consistency in front of the goal leads to a better overall well-being of the team. 

However, the case of Indian men’s senior national team forward Ishan Pandita is quite different. With an exemplary striker, Sunil Chhetri, ahead in line, the forward has struggled for minutes in the national team. To add insult to injury, Pandita hasn’t had much gametime in the past two Hero Indian Super League (ISL) seasons to show his mettle and prove his worth domestically as well as internationally. 

"It's a sticky situation that we are in currently, being an Indian striker. The last three seasons have been very difficult for me to get consistent minutes. And as a footballer, game time is everything. When you get a consistent run of games, you have the opportunity to prove yourself, to show what you are about, and you gain confidence. And when that's taken away from you, everything becomes a little bit more difficult, stated Pandita in an interaction with AIFF.

"So, it's a battle that I have to face, and hopefully, soon in the next season or the coming seasons, I can cement the number nine position in the Indian team and in the ISL club as well," he added.

The Jamshedpur FC forward made his debut in the senior national team two years back, coming off the bench in an international friendly against Oman that ended in a 1-1 draw. Similar to his stint at Jamshedpur FC, he made several substitute appearances for the national team, racking up five substitute appearances since his debut.

In those five substitute appearances, Pandita found himself on the scoresheet in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata, netting a goal in the latter stages of the game thereby sealing India’s spot in the AFC Asian Cup.  

"The first goal for your country is, obviously, a massive moment for you in your career. It was an amazing feeling. And to do that on that stage in Kolkata, with that crowd, was fantastic. It's always a pleasure to help the team win," he reminisced.

While Pandita was not part of the Blue Tigers’ winning squad for the Hero Tri-Nation Cup that ended in March, the 25-year-old is prepped up and is itching for gametime in order to cement his position in the national team.

"I think I've always said the pitch talks, so you can say whatever you want off the field, but at the end of the day, it's your performances that do the talking. So, if I get my chance, which I hope I will, and I get enough minutes and I score, then that will obviously help my case," said the Delhi-born player.

Crafting a legacy of his own, striker Sunil Chhetri has eclipsed many greats and has arguably proved himself among one of India’s greatests. With Chhetri in the swansong of his career, the entire nation has pondered over his successor. As the question looms large, Pandita believes it’s more about writing a new chapter in Indian football history rather than filling the Indian skipper’s boots.

"The question (of Chhetri's successor) has been thrown around for many years now, and I have all due respect for him. He is the captain of our country and has had a fantastic career. But me being myself, I want to make my own journey and write my own chapter in Indian football. So, I'll just be looking to do my best when I get the chance and make our country proud," he stated.

One of the very few players to have trained in Spain, Europe, the striker featured for multiple youth academies of Spanish clubs such as Almeria, Leganes, and Gimnastic before tying himself down to a professional contract at Pobla de Mafumet and Lorca FC.

"Spain was a fantastic experience for me. Personally, I've grown a lot as a player and as a person, and I've understood football and the game in a different way, I think. And I guess that has only benefited me because even with the limited amount of time I've got, I've still scored a decent amount of goals. Hopefully, I can get more of that experience," he shared.

At 25, Pandita has clocked 1158 minutes across 45 matches and netted nine goals, most of which have come off the bench. The upcoming Indian footballing season will be the perfect litmus test for the striker as India play a host of international tournaments leading up to the coveted AFC Asian Cup scheduled to be held in January 2024.

"Of course, everything is leading up to the main event, which is the Asian Cup in January. I, personally, will be taking it one step at a time, and so will the team. We have the Hero Intercontinental Cup coming up, and then we have the SAFF Championship. We're obviously going to be looking to win both tournaments. Hopefully, I can find the back of the net and score some goals, and that should help me," he concluded.