Meeting an old friend is always cheerful. It’s like a breath of fresh air - reminisces of old times, and a needful distraction from the present. If Indian middle-order were a person, it’s quite likely he would’ve felt the same with Shreyas Iyer’s performance yesterday against the West Indies.
It is safe to say that the middle-order in Team India is a disconcertingly busy place to be at. In the last two years, the consistency of the debate over the middle-order, and particularly for the number four position has led to its inevitable, typical social media-exaggeration. The consistent shuffling in the positions after No 3 in India’s batting has been one of the major reasons behind the side’s failure in the 2019 World Cup.
In such a scenario, the 71-run knock by Shreyas Iyer brings positivity in loads. The way he constructed the innings, complemented by the fact that India’s long-running search for a stable middle-order brought Iyer in the fray, made his innings stand-out, even as a batsman of the caliber of Virat Kohli scored a century at the other end.
In the past many months, the Indian middle-order had been privy to a variety of stroke-playing individuals. Some explosive, some defensive, but throughout the time, Team India lacked a player who could build the innings alongside a top-3 batsman. MS Dhoni, in his prime, was a master of the task, but he is far from his best now. Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya both rely on muscle power, even though efforts are being made to push the former in a constructive role.
Throughout his innings of 68-ball 71 against West Indies, Iyer hardly looked at unease. A simple push towards cover, a slight nudge off the leg, a cheeky slab on backward point... it was all very smooth from the Mumbai batsman, and precisely what Virat Kohli, as batsman and captain, missed throughout the World Cup and before. More importantly, Iyer valued his wicket at all times, taking care to push the ball through the ground. It helped Iyer that he was privy to the conditions in West Indies as he had been a part of the India A squad which toured the country ahead of the series.
Iyer also showed his calculative approach during the innings, and there was a sense of authority to his decision-making. During one such instance, he didn’t shy to send Virat Kohli back when the skipper had decided to take a run. Virat only just survived the run-out, and had Iyer obliged, he would’ve surely been dismissed. For a player who is auditioning for a role in the side, and moreover, batting for the first time in international colors in over a year, it was a brave call, as well as one which exhibits discipline and a strong mindset.
After the game, Iyer stressed on the intent of building a partnership.
“It was a fruitful day. I knew I was going to do well, I played for India A and I played in these grounds, paced my innings well and think it went well. I decided that I wouldn’t take any risks, Virat told me that we needed to build a partnership and take the innings deep,” Iyer said.
“He supported me very well, we took the ones and twos, hit the boundaries when it came. We decided 250 was a good score, obviously, we got 30 runs extra. He told me to bat at least until the 45th over, I am thankful for what I managed.”
It’s a pity for Iyer that, despite delivering positive performances in the limited number of ODIs he had played, he wasn’t a part of India’s setup in the buildup to the 2019 World Cup. He scored two half-centuries in his first six games (didn’t get to bat in two of them) but wasn’t considered for selection after the series against South Africa in 2018.
But, Shreyas Iyer is back now, and there will be many challenges, more difficult ones of those, further down the road which will decide his fate with the Indian team. For now, it’s a sigh of relief for the Mumbai player, who finally held on to the opportunity and impressed his skipper at last.