Meeting an old friend is always cheerful. It’s like a breath of fresh air – it has reminisces of old times, and a needful distraction from the present. If the number four position in the Indian middle-order were a person, it’s quite likely he would’ve felt the same with Shreyas Iyer’s performance yesterday against New Zealand.
The 25-year-old batsman arrived at the crease in unfamiliar circumstances. The captain of the side, Virat Kohli departed merely six deliveries into Iyer’s arrival – suddenly, the onus on seeing through the game was on the Mumbai batsman. Of the six balls, Iyer had played three, scoring two runs. The new man-in was Shivam Dube, who was sent primarily to take advantage of the short boundaries at the Eden Park.
Both the batsmen were playing in their first T20I match outside India. The target wasn’t small either, but Iyer’s performance with the bat instilled belief that India may have found a permanent answer to their number-four crisis.
It isn’t that Iyer hadn’t played an innings like this before. Two months ago, Iyer slammed the Bangladesh bowlers all around the park in a 33-ball 62 in Nagpur. It was a display of six-hitting prowess, as Iyer slammed five out of the park. However, the innings in Auckland couples Iyer’s skills with an elite mentality.
On Friday, Shreyas Iyer played the role of an anchor as he guided India to a resounding six-wicket victory over the hosts New Zealand. It is important to highlight the role Iyer played – especially when the Indian skipper was dismissed early into the Mumbai batsman’s innings.
Not long ago, the 25-year-old had been struggling with the bat. In the fifty-over series against Australia, he faced a fair share of troubles with his performances. In the series-decider, however, it was the calming influence of Virat Kohli at the other end which helped him find his feet in a 287 run-chase – and it is something he admitted after the game as well.
“They were trying to get into my head and wanted me to go over the top, but I said to myself that I will communicate with Virat and he told me to get set. I know if I am set I can play the big shots. So, the nudging and knocking helped me get into the innings,” Iyer had said.
With 89 runs still needed in 55 deliveries, the dismissal of Virat Kohli was enough to boost the confidence for hosts – and put Iyer under pressure. The innings, though, was the realization of his strong mindset.
In the second delivery after Kohli’s dismissal, Iyer went on the backfoot off a short-pitched delivery and slammed the ball towards the long-off boundary for a four. The shot was brutal, and intent aggressive. Iyer knew exactly what to do, and this was his game of reckoning.
In a small ground like Eden Park, going for boundaries is sometimes the only option. The Kiwis knew this, and even the otherwise composed New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, who relies on knocking down the ground with lazy elegance, had hit four sixes in a 26-ball 51.
There was a period, though, where the run-scoring had slowed down considerably. Across the 14th and 15th over of the innings, India had lost a wicket in Shivam Dube, scoring 9 runs. With 53 needed in the final five overs, Iyer had almost zoned out on the second delivery of Sodhi’s over, as he attempted a slog but missed the line. Seifert’s slowness behind the stumps saved the Mumbai batsman, but this was the moment which allowed Iyer to readjust.
This time, Virat was not on the other end to reassure him. The ‘calmness’, as Iyer talked about after the win over Australia, had to come from within. The next ball was wide outside the off-stump and Iyer stood his ground, targeting the gap on the covers for a boundary.
It was difficult, then, to stop him. He smashed a six off a significantly poor delivery from Tim Southee, and then hit two consecutive fours off Hamish Bennett to steer India closer to victory in the next two overs. In the 19th over, he knew exactly how to unsettle Southee – with crease movements. Iyer backed away from the crease on occasions – smacking the experienced Kiwi bowler for a six and a four in the first two deliveries.
Iyer eventually finished the game in the same over with a towering six over midwicket.
“It’s amazing coming overseas and it’s a really good feeling to win the game and being not out,” he said in the post-match presentation. “We had lost two quick wickets and it was really important to build a partnership. We knew the ground is short and we could cover the run-rate at any time.”
The talent had always been there for Iyer. In his 18th T20I, though, he reassured that shouldering responsibility isn’t confined to the top-three of Indian batting order. That he didn’t let Kiwis dominate after removing the dangerous Rahul and Kohli in quick succession provides a fair reflection that India may have finally found a dependable number four in the T20I format.