Shreyas Iyer bursts short-ball bubble, ends India's No. 4 debate once and for all
Shreyas Iyer gave a resounding answer to his critics, scoring best of the three Indian half-centuries against Sri Lanka yesterday at the World Cup.
Word has always travelled fast in international cricket. In the age of video analysis and instant communication, there is, however, no need anymore for word to travel, fast or otherwise. Everything is available at the click of a button, good data and the not-so-good.
Word is, that Shreyas Iyer is vulnerable to the short ball. According to the batter himself, it’s a myth created from the outside, even if evidence might suggest otherwise. There is a reason why bowlers target that aspect of his batting, and there is ample proof that he has been dismissed playing the pull stroke more than a handful of times, no matter whether he concedes the point or not.
Iyer positively bristled on Thursday night when a reporter asked him about his ‘problems’ against the short stuff. “When you say it's a problem for me, what do you mean?” he questioned, defensive-aggressively. Perhaps the query had touched a raw nerve because, just a couple of hours previously, Iyer had unfurled a series of pull shots against Sri Lanka at his beloved Wankhede Stadium, where he has grown up honing his cricket.
A constant at both of India’s optional training sessions since landing from Lucknow on Monday, Iyer had practiced the pull with diligence and commitment under the watchful eyes of head coach Rahul Dravid, as proficient a puller as any Indian. He had also embraced range-hitting, emboldened to hit through the line by the trueness of the practice pitches.
Those traits were to stand him in grand stead on Thursday evening, against Sri Lanka. Walking in with the platform set up beautifully – 193 for two after 30 overs – on an excellent strip for batting, Iyer produced the most impactful of three big half-centuries by the Indian top order, a stirring 56-ball 82 during which he was at his strokeful, big-hitting best.
The Chembur-born 28-year-old is a vital part of the Indian 50-over wheel. Just how vital was evident earlier this year, after a potentially crippling back injury forced him to go under the surgeon’s scalpel in April. From that point on, he was in a race against time to be fit for the World Cup. The trick was to speed up the rehabilitation process without overdoing it, or without succumbing to the temptation of returning when not yet fully recovered, only for a relapse.
India were willing to walk the extra mile to ensure his return to play. His comeback transpired in Sri Lanka in early September at the Asia Cup, but after two matches, he contracted back spasms on the eve of the Super Four clash against Pakistan and played no further part in the tournament. Dravid and skipper Rohit Sharma were still amenable to giving him time, and Iyer responded with a century in the second of three ODIs against Australia towards the end of September, proving both his physical and match readiness, just ten days before the start of India’s campaign.
It's been a mixed World Cup for Iyer. Loose strokes with the team in trouble against Australia in Chennai and England in Lucknow bookended a stylish unbeaten 53 against Pakistan and a crisp 33 against New Zealand in Dharamsala when he perished to – yes – the pull shot. Suryakumar Yadav was snapping at his heels, Iyer needed a big one to cement his spot ahead of his fellow Mumbaikar, given Hardik Pandya’s imminent return from injury.
Iyer responded at the Wankhede he knows like the back of his hand in stunning fashion. Sixes flowed off his willow with practiced ease, mocking the length of the boundary. Pace and spin were treated with equal derision, the pick-up of the bat, which became an extension of his arms, matched by the elaborate followthrough; a perfect amalgam of timing and power sent the ball soaring over the ropes six times, including a monster 106-metre hit, the longest of the tournament so far.
A fourth ODI hundred was his for the taking if he had chosen to be a little less selfless, but such is the culture that permeates through this side that, for the most part, individual milestones matter very little. Iyer didn’t rue the 18 that got away, choosing instead to celebrate the 82 scored at such breakneck pace that India thundered past 350 and put the game beyond doubt.
Iyer can expect a trial by the short ball at the Eden Gardens on Sunday, when Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Marco Jansen and Gerald Coetzee are certain to come hard at him. “What problem?” he might well ask the South Africans. That should make for fascinating viewing.
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