Shreyas and tuning out the short wave | Crickit

Shreyas and tuning out the short wave

By, Lucknow
Oct 26, 2023 10:39 PM IST

He is India’s preferred No.4 for the past four years, but the weakness against the short ball has continued to trouble Iyer six years into his India career.

Shreyas Iyer’s numbers in ODIs are compact – 1931 runs in 52 matches at an average of 45.97 and a strike rate of 97.42. They demonstrate why he has been India’s preferred No. 4 for the past four years – he has played more games at the position than anybody else in this period. These numbers demonstrate why he earned a prompt recall for the Asia Cup in August after his rehabilitation following back surgery. These numbers also tell us of his ability to combine consistency with aggression.

 Shreyas Iyer plays a shot during the ICC Men's World Cup ODI cricket match between India and New Zealand(PTI)
Shreyas Iyer plays a shot during the ICC Men's World Cup ODI cricket match between India and New Zealand(PTI)

What these numbers don’t disclose is a weakness against the short ball that continues to cause trouble six years into his international career. That Iyer has a fine record nonetheless is a testimony to his other attributes, but to establish himself as a batter for all situations and surroundings, a long-term fix must be found to a recurring problem.

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His latest failing against the short ball came versus New Zealand in Dharamsala. Having raced to 33 with Virat Kohli playing second fiddle, Iyer had the perfect opportunity to deliver a defining contribution in a tournament where the bulk of the scoring has been done by India’s top order. Among his six boundaries, there were a couple of eye-catching pulls against Lockie Ferguson, easily the quickest bowler in the Kiwi set-up. The first was to a ball directed at his helmet, but Iyer, standing tall, rolled his wrists and sent it through backward square leg. The second was through fine leg to a ball that did not rise above his chest.

Against Iyer in his present avatar though, the opposition is unlikely to ever give up on that mode of attack. And so Trent Boult, in the 22nd over of the innings, went at Iyer with a short ball precise in its line and length – outside off-stump and head high. Boult’s angle from around the wicket also portended greater difficulty in keeping the ball down with the pull shot. Iyer still went for it and picked out Devon Conway at the deep square leg boundary.

It wasn't at all surprising therefore that Iyer worked extensively on tackling the short ball in India's training session on Thursday. With left-arm throwdown specialist Nuwan Seneviratne hitting tennis balls aimed at Iyer’s head with a racquet from close proximity, the batter’s control of the pull was put to severe test. Iyer has been singularly subjected to this mode of practice even earlier at this World Cup. In Chennai, for instance, it was head coach Rahul Dravid who was challenging Iyer by hitting tennis balls directed at his shoulder. Skipper Rohit Sharma has also had discussions with Iyer along these lines during previous sessions.

Iyer's dismissal in Dharamsala has only exacerbated his lean record against short-pitched deliveries by pacers – he has been dismissed eight times off this length at an average of 21.37. Six of these dismissals have come outside India, where he averages a meagre 13.5. His fallibility with the pull is clear too. At home, he has been out six times at an average of 19.16 while playing it. Outside India, he’s again suffered six dismissals at an average of 13. The contrast with some of his India teammates is stark. Sharma, known to relish the pull, averages 64.28 and strikes at 258.62 at home. Virat Kohli averages 41.4 and has a strike rate of 166.93 in India while playing the shot. Shubman Gill, too, has had success with the stroke.

“That (short ball issue) has been something the commentators talk about,” Iyer had said during a Test series against Bangladesh last December. “Off the field, people keep saying that I have that issue. It had gone into my head at some point in time. It does play in the mind of a batter when people from outside talk about issues and it’s important as a player to turn a deaf ear to them. The rest will take care of itself. At the end of the day, ignorance is bliss.”

If a hint of defensiveness comes through in Iyer’s response, it’s perhaps because of the perception battle players with a frailty against the short ball face. The word spreads like wildfire, and it’s hard to shed that tag thereafter. In the Indian context, in the past two decades, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh and Sourav Ganguly are prominent examples of players who carved credible international careers despite a perceived susceptibility against the short ball. Elsewhere, Steve Waugh didn’t mind looking awkward against a barrage of bouncers, either weaving out of the way or fending it as long as it didn’t result in losing his wicket.

Perhaps the key for Iyer is to avoid the pull and look for other ways of scoring against these deliveries. One of his trademark shots is to make room on the leg side and cut aerially through point or third man. The slow pitches in India tend to allow Iyer to pre-empt with reasonable success though there’s risk in him backing away and exposing all his stumps.

In the middle overs, Iyer has other strengths. His record against spin, for example, is exemplary at home, averaging 73.83 and striking at 108.84. Adept at using his feet and targeting the boundary arc from long-off to midwicket, Iyer seldom allows spinners to squeeze in a few quiet overs. For that though, Iyer will have to resist the short-ball bait against the pacers.

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