Shreyas Iyer puts BCCI fiasco behind to sing sweet redemption song, swings right back into India captaincy contention | Crickit
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Shreyas Iyer puts BCCI fiasco behind to sing sweet redemption song, swings right back into India captaincy contention

May 27, 2024 06:54 PM IST

Shreyas Iyer’s stocks have skyrocketed in the last two months. As a batter, he had a decent run. But it was as captain, though, that Iyer stood out.

To say that it’s been an interesting last four months for Shreyas Iyer would be a gross understatement. ‘Interesting’ for the onlookers, if not for the 29-year-old himself.

Kolkata Knight Riders' head coach Chandrakant Pandit and captain Shreyas Iyer celebrate the team's victory in the Indian Premier League 2024, at MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai (ANI)
Kolkata Knight Riders' head coach Chandrakant Pandit and captain Shreyas Iyer celebrate the team's victory in the Indian Premier League 2024, at MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai (ANI)

Iyer was expected to be one of the key influencers of India’s five-Test home series against England. He is an acknowledged slayer of high-quality spin and England came bearing late Christmas gifts – two uncapped personnel in Shoaib Bashir and Tom Hartley, a third (Rehan Ahmed) who had played just one Test and the experienced Jack Leach, who hobbled home with an injury sustained in the first game.

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Things, however, went spectacularly south. In the first four innings, Shreyas made 35, 13, 27 and 29, falling to spin on each occasion. Despite Virat Kohli’s absence, despite the injury to KL Rahul, despite the lack of experience in the middle order, the selectors were forced to drop him for the last three Tests, an aftermath also of a mere 83 runs in the eight preceding Test innings.

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Iyer watched from the sidelines as fellow Mumbaikar Sarfaraz Khan scripted a memorable debut, Shubman Gill and Ravindra Jadeja stepped up and wicketkeeper-batter Dhruv Jurel showcased his quality. He knew that, once Kohli and Rahul returned, his chances of an immediate comeback were minimal to zero. The only consolation was that India’s next Test series wasn’t until September.

Prudence would have dictated a return to first-class cricket for Mumbai, making a strong pitch for their 42nd Ranji Trophy title. But Iyer chose to make himself available, citing a long-standing back problem that almost scuttled his 50-over World Cup plans last year. The medical staff with the Indian team and at the National Cricket Academy found nothing wrong with his back but Iyer had a different story to tell. Whispers abounded that he couldn’t play freely off the front foot, that his back seized up after 20 or 25 deliveries.

Incensed that he chose to ignore the Ranji Trophy and instead linked up with Kolkata Knight Riders ahead of IPL 2024, the decision-makers dropped him from the list of BCCI’s centrally contracted players on February 28. It was the clearest indication that apathy towards domestic cricket would come with a price. A chastened Iyer returned for the final against Vidarbha and made a second-innings 95, but the damage had been done.

The IPL offered him the chance to sing the redemption song. Iyer had missed the previous edition with the said back injury that necessitated surgery but back in the saddle, he had a point to prove. In the point-to-prove stakes, he had a kindred soul in Gautam Gambhir, reunited as mentor with a franchise he had captained to two titles, in 2012 and 2014. For once, like poles didn’t repel. The outcome – a third IPL crown for KKR, an outfit Iyer referred to as ‘invincible’ shortly before receiving the trophy on Sunday night.

Iyer’s stocks have skyrocketed in the last two months. As a batter, he had a decent rather than extraordinary run, but it’s worth remembering that he often walked in late, thanks to the sustained fireworks of Phil Salt and Sunil Narine. Still, he eked out 351 runs from 239 deliveries, striking at 146.86 to ensure that the momentum wasn’t squandered. Ahead of him in the batting order, Narine (488 runs), Salt (435) and Venkatesh Iyer (370) were brutal and consistent; Iyer complemented them superbly.

It was as captain, though, that Iyer stood out. Did you say captaincy is straightforward when you command a bowling attack of Mitchell Starc, Sunil Narine, Andre Russell and Varun Chakravarthy? Maybe so, but Starc did go for 100 runs in his first two outings, Chakravarthy was coming off a poor previous season, and Iyer also had to contend with two raw, young Indian quicks, Vaibhav Arora and Harshit Rana.

His handling of the bowling resources was outstanding. Starc is a rhythm bowler but despite his numerous years on the circuit, he thrives on the confidence of the group around him. Iyer provided empathy; he also got Arora and Rana to bowl above themselves, emphasising the need for wickets rather than containment. His aggression wasn’t stark and in-your-face, but it reflected in his controlled body language, in his field placements, in the unambiguity of his message to his bowlers.

Iyer is only the eighth man to lift the IPL trophy in the last 17 years, though whether that leads to something more tangible from a leadership perspective remains to be seen. His first objective will be to regain his Test spot; everything else, he will tell you, is a bonus. For now, he will bask in the afterglow of well-deserved glory. Why not?

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