CHENNAI: Shreyas Iyer has completed a long and fruitful tour of the Caribbean. There with India A team before Virat Kohli’s men flew over for a full series, he is not part of the Test party. The batsman heads home knowing that he has enhanced his reputation in the ODI series.
To leave it at that would be one of the massive understatements of recent times. Playing his part in two match-winning partnerships with Kohli, Iyer brought back normalcy in the Indian batting line-up. Two successive fifties from No 5 is neither rare nor strikingly noteworthy, but it does come as a huge relief for a team that was beginning to forget what runs from specialist middle-order batsmen actually mean.
The importance of the two knocks by Iyer doesn’t end there. Given the way Rishabh Pant threw away his wicket, it appears to be a matter of time before the right-hander replaces the southpaw at No 4. Pant is an exciting talent who deserves more chances, but he is still to shed the element of impetuosity that wannabes must if they have to reach the next grade. His failed attempt to clear long-on off the first ball he faced without getting to the pitch was made to look worse by Iyer’s polished attack on a below-par and demoralised bowling side.
The Indians had made it clear after landing in the West Indies that Pant was going to bat for them at two-drop. Asked after clinching the ODI series about chances of Iyer getting promoted, since he appears better suited for that role than everybody else tried out in the recent past, Kohli avoided reeling out a direct reply. But he didn’t hide his joy at what he had seen from the other end.
“We were under a bit of pressure but his knock was a game-changer. The way he played took all the pressure off me. He understood the value of performing in these situations. He has certainly made a case for himself, coming in and playing according to the situation. Hopefully, he builds on this and keeps performing for the team. He can be a strong contender and a regular feature in the middle-order,” was how the captain lavished praise on Iyer.
What Kohli went on to add was more effusive. “I was exactly the same when I came in. Any opportunity I got, I wanted to win games for my team and play according to the situation. He (Iyer) was brave under pressure. You need to reveal your game to realise who you are, what your game is and what kind of a player you are.”
Leaving apart the quality of his shots — like a nonchalant straight lift over the bowler’s head into the stands — and a hint of immaturity which showed in the way he chipped it up despite seeing that long-off was in place, what stands out about Iyer is the assurance he brings to the middle.
For long, the two-down slot in the Indian line-up had almost meant the beginning of the end. The team appeared reluctant to try out specialists and went for wicketkeeper-batsmen and all-rounders for these positions. The arrival of a batsman in the true sense of the word promises to change that.
While Pant went for broke as soon as he came in, Iyer showed respect to the first ball and defended it. Willing to play as per merit, he maintained a strike rate of 150-plus and showcased in his innings the trait that separates good batsmen from others: ability to dominate when in form. But because the youngster’s real test will come against attacks better than the West Indies’, it’s better to wait rather than going overboard.
It doesn’t mean the man in question wouldn’t rejoice. “I am happy. I want to come out to bat in this kind of tough situations, when everybody in the dressing room is nervous. I love it because the match can change and anything can happen,” Iyer told bcci.tv.