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Sunday, Dec 15, 2019

Did Indian team management miss a trick by not investing in Shreyas Iyer as India’s number 4?

In 6 matches, Shreyas Iyer managed 210 runs at an average of 42 with a strike rate of almost 97. Yet, he was sidelined.

cricket Updated: Jul 17, 2019 08:42 IST
Manish K Pathak
Manish K Pathak
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
File image of Shreyas Iyer
File image of Shreyas Iyer(Getty Images)
         

For all the bravado Virat Kohli exudes and for all the thundering words Ravi Shastri throws, India’s World Cup campaign was always meant to come to a screeching hault, it was always meant to happen when the batting side was chasing down a mediocre total, it was always meant to happen, when the top order was plucked out and tossed by the wayside, it was always meant to happen when the middle order, raw, untested, under-cooked and all the unsavoury adjectives added, was exposed.

So, when Dhoni was bunting the ball and Ravindra Jadeja was flexing his muscles and wafting his sword, India were still few paces short. What if the amid all the muddle, the flaky middle-order managed to conjure 40 more runs? A million questions asked, perhaps even more hopes quashed when MS Dhoni was short of his crease and head bowed, he stuttered off the field.

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At the very moment, on almost the opposite side of the world, Shreyas Iyer was humming around in West Indies. Iyer was part of the Indian team for a brief period when the musical chair around the number 4 position began. In 6 matches, he managed 210 runs at an average of 42 with a strike rate of almost 97.

Despite these numbers, he was sidelined and India decided to invest in everyone, from Manish Pandey, to Ambati Rayudu, to KL Rahul, to Dinesh Karthik, to Kedar Jadhav and it ended with Vijay Shankar and Rishabh Pant. Iyer, meanwhile, lost track of questioning the reasons on why he was axed in the first place. Instead, he controlled the controllable - put his head down, scored runs in Ranji Trophy and also captained Mumbai to the Vijay Hazare Trophy. He led Delhi Capitals to the play-offs in the IPL and scored runs for India ‘A’.

 

As India stumbled and their middle order muddle came back to bite them hard, Iyer’s name is back in the reckoning. He is currently leading the India ‘A’ side in the series in Caribbean.

“This is going to be the first time I am going to the West Indies. It’s going to be a good experience for me. The wickets are bit like Indian tracks, the bowlers are going to be challenging there as well,” Iyer told bcci.tv.

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He has been outspoken, perhaps, this cost him his place? Let’s take a guess, but Kohli has always wanted his players to ‘speak their mind’, so this guess could lead to different conclusions. Instead, we pay attention the young man’s words and his ambitions.

“I deserve a chance in the Indian team. My performances in the ‘A’ series should count. My goal is to be better than the previous season, I want to grow as an individual and become more mature as a player. I want to try to bat till the end,” Iyer, who averages 52.18 in first-class cricket, said.

So when we speak about 2019, we should also speak about 2015 and then about 2017 - the Champions Trophy. India’s top order walk out, look around, wink, smile and laugh - weave their bat and own the tournament. India marches into the semi-finals. And the top three walk out again, shaky, bereft of smiles and are sent back in a heartbeat. There is a pattern and this pattern has to be arrested and Iyer could be the man, for he knows what it takes to stand tall in a crisis. Yet, he yearns to learn about it from Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. And no talk about Indian cricket, ambition and planning is complete without MS Dhoni, Iyer wants to imbibe the qualities, much like Dhoni soaks up pressure.

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“Kohli is always hungry for runs and you can see it in his batting. I want to see that hunger in myself. While Dhoni is very calm and composed in pressure situations,” he said about Kohli and Dhoni.

“Rohit obviously is very talented. He’s got so much time when he plays, makes batting look easy. He is someone who is totally different from other batsman. The best seat to watch him bat is from the non-strikers end, right now takes his time. He structures his innings well. If I get all three aspects it will be very helpful for me,” Iyer added.

Like Kohli said, India fell short by margins in the semi-finals, perhaps, Kohli now needs to step back and rewind. Did the management - including the skipper, allowed a small margin develop into a gaping hole. Did they bark up the wrong trees? If yes, Shreyas Iyer is making all the right noises at a very opportune time.