Big-hitting Shreyas solves an India World Cup problem - Hindustan Times
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Big-hitting Shreyas solves an India World Cup problem

Nov 19, 2023 01:22 AM IST

His form at No.4 -- a vital slot that gave India headache in the 2019 edition – is a big boost ahead of Sunday’s final versus Australia

To have a settled middle-order batting unit, a high-performing No.4 is very important. Among the lessons India learnt from the 2019 World Cup, not being able to firm up this pivotal position is uppermost. Despite trying various players in that role, the team management had failed to firm up their minds then. And the selectors’ final choice of Vijay Shankar as the one equipped to do the job became a butt of jokes.

Shreyas Iyer during a practice session at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Saturday. (AFP)
Shreyas Iyer during a practice session at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Saturday. (AFP)

During that tournament, it became a case of musical chairs. After starting KL Rahul in the tournament opener against South Africa, Hardik Pandya was promoted to No.4 in the second and third matches, versus Australia and Pakistan. In the fifth and sixth games, against Afghanistan and West Indies, Vijay Shankar batted there. After the experiment flopped, Rishabh Pant came in at No.4 for the remaining matches, including the semi-final.

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With their top-order firing brilliantly led by Rohit Sharma’s century spree, the weak spot was masked during the round-robin stage. However, over-reliance on the top-order hurt India in the semis when it misfired against New Zealand after openers Rohit and Rahul, and Virat Kohli all got out for one run each at Old Trafford. There was no recovery from there; No.4 Pant made 32 and No.5 Dinesh Karthik was out for six as India were reduced to 92/6.

The difference a settled No.4 can make to the side is what we are seeing at this World Cup. Overcoming a shaky start to the tournament, Shreyas Iyer has excelled in that role, scoring 526 runs at an average of 76.11.

“From the last World Cup, we were searching for the No.4 batter and Iyer is the answer. I am not saying because he is my student, but the stats are showing that he has done justice to that role, the consistency he has shown. It is a different feeling when you contribute to the team. It is one more game now. I have told him that it (final) is a new challenge, a new game. Whatever role you have got he has to do justice, personal milestones are not important,” former India batter Pravin Amre, who has coached Iyer from his early days at the Shivaji Park Gymkhana Academy, Dadar, said.

Batting in the middle-order is a different challenge in one-day cricket compared to the top three. Often your job involves maintaining the scoring momentum from overs 20 to 40 when the ball has gone softer. The bowler has extra cover on the boundary so finding the gaps is not easy. The best option is to have the power to clear the fence.

Iyer’s advantage is his big hitting. He has got his runs at a strike rate of 113.11 thanks to 24 sixes, the most in the competition apart from the openers. Rohit has hit 28 sixes and David Warner 24. “In the middle-overs you have to really hit the big sixes for impact, that’s what we practiced. How will he otherwise dominate in the middle overs, how will he look different from others, it’s the ability to hit sixes,” said Amre.

There are quite a few batters who have performed well at No. 4 for their teams in this World Cup, but Iyer has been way ahead. In the last four innings, he has overcome his issue against the short ball with scores of 82, 77, 128* and 105. The other No. 4s who have done well are South Africa’s Aiden Markram (406 at 45.11), Pakistan’s Mohammad Rizwan (395 at 65.83), England’s Ben Stokes (304 in 6 inngs at 50.66) and Afghanistan’s Hashmatullah Shahidi (310 runs at 51.66).

Going into the final against Australia, the Mumbai batter will provide India a massive edge because of his ability to dominate against the spinners. Leg-spinner Adam Zampa is a key bowler for the Aussies with part-timers Glenn Maxwell and Travis Head also doing well in support roles.

Why is he so good against the spinners? “It is the bat speed and his height; he has the reach, so he doesn’t have to step out all the time, he can stand and deliver. Also, his ability to go over mid-off has given him a lot of confidence. Against the spinners you usually go on-side which is natural, but he likes to go over mid-off,” Amre said.

Before the spinners come on, he will have to tackle the short ball. Despite handling the South Africa and New Zealand pacers well, the tall Australia fast bowlers will test him with bouncers. “They will bowl short balls (at Iyer). It’s not that they will not bowl short balls at Kohli or anybody else. Even if you are good, they will test you. It is all about how he finds a way to tackle that and be successful.”

In the league game against Australia, India’s first of the tournament, Iyer got out for zero. The final is the perfect stage to make amends.

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