I thrive on competition: Shreyas Iyer | Crickit
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I thrive on competition: Shreyas Iyer

Jan 15, 2024 11:20 PM IST

The batter sees any jockeying for an India middle-order slot positively, on turning tracks expected for the England Tests starting on January 25.

Immediately after helping Mumbai defeat Andhra by 10 wickets in their Elite Group B Ranji Trophy game here on Monday, Shreyas Iyer was back at the centre wicket of the MCA Sharad Pawar Academy ground for a prolonged net session under the watchful eyes of his coach Pravin Amre.

Indian cricketer Shreyas Iyer during a practice session (PTI)
Indian cricketer Shreyas Iyer during a practice session (PTI)

Alternating between batting against the bowlers and the side-arm specialist, the coach and player also were having regular discussions, looking to fine-tune his game ahead of the five-Test series against England starting on January 25.

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It is a challenging period for Iyer. He missed out on selection in the T20 side for the ongoing series against Afghanistan and there's tight competition for a place in the Test eleven after the success of KL Rahul in the middle-order in South Africa. The Mumbai batter also has a point to prove after a lean run of 0, 4*, 31 and 6 in the two Tests in South Africa on tough, seaming tracks.

Another reason Iyer felt the need to have a tough practice session was that he didn’t fully get what he was looking for in the Ranji outing in terms of preparation for England. The pitch didn’t offer sharp turn, neither did he get to spend enough time in the middle, getting out for a run-a-ball 48.

“It wasn’t a turning track, to be honest. I’m assuming we would be getting turning wickets against England. Other than that, it was just for my match fitness, to stay on the field as long as possible. That’s what I was mainly focusing on because, especially after my (back) injury, it has been tough for me to stick on the outfield for long. This was great practice for me,” said Iyer on the gains from his first domestic first-class outing in nearly five years.

While he didn’t get to play much spin, he got good practice against short bowling by the Andhra pacers. It is a given that the Mumbai batter will have to deal with it against England as well. The Andhra speedsters bowled with a six-three attacking leg-side field and Iyer’s response was to take on the bowling rather than duck and weave. He did it successfully, hitting five of his seven fours in the arc between midwicket and fine leg. That’s how he plans to deal with the ploy at the international level. “I'm happy,” said Iyer when asked to assess how he coped with the bouncers. “I’m going to play attacking irrespective of the situation."

“They were bowling defensive and didn’t let me play to my strengths. Even though they started with the short balls, I was able to execute them for boundaries and get a lot of runs out of it. Again, they were bowling negative so there was literally no scope to…other than leaving the ball I couldn’t have done much. I knew that leaving the ball would, to be honest, bore me. I would rather go and play some strokes. That’s what I considered at that point of time.”

Despite his proven game in sub-continent conditions, the India team management has a headache of finalising the middle-order spots if they go with a specialist wicketkeeper. Iyer said increased competition will bring the best out of him.

“It’s fun. I love competition, and when competition is there, you face more challenges. And that’s what I thrive on. I enjoy having competition around because then you can go at each other and also against the opponents to show your talent and skills.

“It’s important to take one match at a time, not think about the five-match Test series. The team is only for the first two games. The motto would be to perform in the first two games and then look forward to the rest of the games," the 29-year-old added.

Given the desperation to collect maximum points from home series in the race for the ICC World Test Championship final, most teams prepare pitches to suit their bowlers. Rank turners will be in the offing for the England series, as Iyer said in jest: “To be honest, I just have to think about the three days. See, the last two Test matches we played in South Africa finished in three days. The third day is always important so I just have to focus on the three days and fourth and fifth will follow if it has to.”

He shrugged off the setback of not being picked in the T20I squad. “Right now, I’m being in the present. Something that is not in my control, I can’t be focusing on that. Coming here and winning the match was my focus and that’s what we did today.

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