Almost two hours before Deepak Chahar's historic spell guided India to a memorable win in Nagpur on Sunday, Shreyas Iyer was the talking point of India's final T20I match against Bangladesh. A cautious start after two quick dismissals, a quick change in momentum and a flurry of boundaries saw Iyer blaze away to 62 off 33. The youngster not just scored his maiden T20I half-century at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium, his belligerence, coupled with some crafty strokes from KL Rahul guided India to a challenging total of 174 for five at the end of 20 overs. Since his return to India's limited-overs frame after World Cup 2019, Iyer has made a rapid progress and made every opportunity count. But through the series against Bangladesh, Iyer not just emerged as India's biggest positive heading into T20 World Cup 2020, he also did enough to get a really long run at No. 4.
In the dewy conditions at Nagpur, India lost stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma early in the innings when a seam-up delivery from Shafiul Islam took a thick inside edge to rattle against the leg stump. Shikhar Dhawan tried to dictate the proceedings and smashed two fours each against Al-Amin and Mustafizur Rahman before falling for 19 off 16. India went two down 35 on board within the powerplay. There was a desperate call for partnership.
"To be honest it wasn't an even innings. It was dicey at the start. It was tough for me to analyse the wicket. Once I got in, I thought I would give myself some time, it really worked out for me today. I have done it (the big hitting) in the past and you need to back yourself in those situations. We needed a partnership at that time; I saw that their part-timer had come on and decided to go after him," Iyer said after the match.
By the time Iyer had walked in at No.4, Rahul had got into the rhythm and that helped the youngster to take some time and analyse the conditions. Iyer started off on a brisk note while Rahul took the responsibility to deal with the boundaries. He eventually shifted his gear in the 11th over when he hit a six and a four off consecutive deliveries against Aminul Islam.
Rahul notched up his sixth T20I fifty in the very next over and departed two deliveries later. It was then time for Iyer to take over responsibility during the death overs. Entering the 15th over with 31 from 22, Iyer struck a hat-trick of sixes followed by a single against Afif Hossain to score his maiden fifty in the format. All the three shots displayed his impeccable timing of the stroke plays, his footwork and his strong bottom hand.
Iyer's scoring rate, according to CricViz, on Sunday was 11.27 runs per over with an impressive false shot percentage of just three -- the second-lowest recorded by an Indian batsman who has faced 30-plus deliveries in a T20I match after Virat Kohli (2.5 per cent vs Afghanistan in 2012).
With the 62-run knock, Iyer also showed the blueprint on how a T20I game is approached in the first innings. Iyer, unlike many, and standing in contrary to India's conception of T20I batting, has the ability to strike big from ball one. Even in the opener against Bangladesh in New Delhi, with Shikhar Dhawan struggling on the slowish Kotla track, Iyer took the pressure off him and kept the run rate intact with his twin sixes and a boundary en route to his cameo knock of 22 runs.
Iyer's this very ability was lauded by Kohli as well following the ODI series against West Indies where he had notched up struck 71(68) and 65(41) in back-to-back innings and emerged as the second-best batsman in the contest.
"Stepping in, not having played many games in the past, but I think he's a very confident guy, he's got the right attitude, and his body language was brilliant. Beautiful hands on the ball, and really kept the tempo going, took a lot of pressure off me, so I could play myself into a tempo like I like doing. And after I got out, he got those extra runs for us as well," Kohli had said while hailing Iyer for being 'brave under pressure'.
A similar has been seen over the last two IPL seasons and in the little ODI opportunities, he managed before being discarded from India’s World Cup plans (with scores of 9, 88, 65, 18, 30).
The script is expected to be different for Iyer this time around. With just 11 months left until the T20 World Cup, Iyer has made himself set for the No.4 role. He also revealed that the management has backed him for that position.
"Today's innings really stated that I can bat under pressure as well," Iyer said. "So it was important for me and the team. Has been important last few series for me to set the benchmark at the No. 4 position. For me personally, they've given the heads-up that you'll be there at four so just back yourself. If Kohli and Rohit get out, we need someone to finish the game and bat till the end. That role is of a number four. That's what I was trying to replicate."