Shreyas Iyer rises to the short-ball challenge

Published on Dec 03, 2022 08:23 PM IST

The Mumbai batter found the going tough for a while but is now starting to find his feet again

Shreyas Iyer's positive approach to the game has impressed experts. (BCCI Twitter) PREMIUM
Shreyas Iyer's positive approach to the game has impressed experts. (BCCI Twitter)

The 2022 Indian Premier League from March to May was a difficult one for Shreyas Iyer. In one innings he would score freely and in the next one, he would look desperate, unable to find a way to put the short ball away for runs. Then came the fifth Test match in July at Edgbaston, Birmingham, against England. In both innings, as he marched towards the crease, the commentators would start on his weakness against the rising delivery. The final blow was losing his spot in the squad for the Twenty20 World Cup.

Having started his international career on an impressive note in limited-overs cricket in 2017 followed by a hundred on Test debut, Iyer was now staring at the most challenging phase of his career.

In all this, however, his one-day form has remained consistent. This year so far has seen the best returns from him with five half-centuries and one hundred in 12 innings for 615 runs at an average of 61.50 (SR 95.50). His sequence of scores from the West Indies series in February has read: 80, 54, 63, 44, 50, 113*, 28*, 80 and 49. It’s his latest innings of 80 and 49 against New Zealand that he will especially take a lot of confidence from as he readies for India’s last ODI series of 2022 against Bangladesh.

The conditions in New Zealand are always challenging with a lot of help for the seamers and with doubts over Iyer’s ability to handle the short stuff, he had to cope with enough of it to get the runs.

A lot of hard work has gone into the Mumbai batter looking in control against the pace attack in New Zealand, his coach Pravin Amre said. “All credit to him. Actually, he has given me a pleasant surprise, practicing is one thing but being able to implement it in the middle is something else. That he was able to do that is very satisfying," says Amre, who has coached Iyer since he was a young boy at the Shivaji Park Gymkhana Academy.

"We always respect a player who performs in Australian or New Zealand conditions. Indian batting records are not good in New Zealand. Any player scoring with an average of 70 in New Zealand is something special.”

At the highest level, the ultimate test is the short ball because the batter is left to face a few yards quicker than he has ever played. In limited-overs cricket, the option of leaving the ball also reduces because of the pressure of strike rate. Till now, Iyer was looking to score on the off-side in the backward point and third man region by making room and tapping the short ball. In New Zealand, he was more in control of the pull shot, getting on top of the bounce.

The change is due to fine technical adjustments. “I have not done anything great but taking him back to the basics and that works. We got better head position by opening the front shoulder, we got a better position at the actual impact point when he was hitting the ball where his base should be strong, those were the things we worked upon,” says Amre.

"People make a lot of noise when a couple of times you get out to a short ball. He knew how much criticism he would face (if he didn’t play the short ball well). But we always take criticism in a positive way and we have to move on."

There’s no doubt that in every series that the Mumbai batter is going to play in the near future, opposition captains are going to look to stop him with chin music. Having cleared the first test in the New Zealand series, Iyer will have to continue to prove himself against the rising deliveries to make the bowlers back off from the line of attack.

“I believe there is always room to improve because no Indian batter is that comfortable against a short ball. To me, he is still a work in progress. We got only 9-10 days to work with him. He will get better and better as he gets more time to work. At the moment, I can say, he is among those who know how to find a way to score against the short ball,” the former India batter says.

The problem for any player arises when he drifts from the basics. Iyer’s issue was a side effect of the demands of T20 cricket, feels Amre.

“In the shorter format you don’t have time, you have to go after the bowling. There is so much of pressure to score the runs (in T20s), they start trying extra (like move around) and in trying to do that they lose the shape and the balance,” says Amre, who came to be known for his fighting innings against the quickest bowlers of his time.

It cost him his place in the T20 squad. Missing out on the World Cup in Australia was a big setback. "Luckily I have seen him since he 10. Sometimes, so much criticism came his way, (that) he used to get upset. Every time that question mark was put whenever he entered the field, that’s why my role was to inspire and motivate. How to take criticism in a positive way, not to react and go and do your job."

At 27 years, Iyer has age on his side. His positive approach to the game has impressed experts. After his hundred on his Test debut under pressure, he was tipped as an all-format batter. If he can cope with the short stuff, he has other skill sets and mental strength to be a long-term prospect.

At the moment, Iyer’s mind is set on cementing his place in the one-day side. The Bangladesh series will be another opportunity to do that. India have picked a full-strength side, with the plan being to avoid too many experiments after lessons from the T20 World Cup debacle.

“Ultimately playing the World Cup is the biggest milestone in any cricketer’s career. He missed the T20 World Cup, but he is looking forward to the next one and that’s why he is performing in such a way that he should be in the playing XI in the (2023 ODI) World Cup. His numbers speak for themselves."

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