The original No.4: India keep the faith in Shreyas Iyer


Since the word ‘experimentation’ must not be used for the sake of it, let’s go with ‘trial’ to understand what’s going on with India’s World Cup preparation in the specialist batting area.

Indian cricketer Shreyas Iyer attends a training session(AP)

The top three are Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill and Virat Kohli, all of whose white-ball workloads have been carefully managed for some time now. Shreyas Iyer is the designated No 4 but he hasn’t played competitive cricket due to injury since the Ahmedabad Test in the early half of March. KL Rahul or Rishabh Pant were in a two-way race for No 5 in the first eleven but they too were seriously injured, Pant more than Rahul after being involved in a road accident last December. Rahul’s last competitive appearance was on May 1 when he pulled his hip flexor during a home IPL game for Lucknow Super Giants.

Rahul Dravid maintains Iyer, Rahul and Pant had been locked in for No 4 and No 5 about 18 or 19 months ago but raise your hands if you are among those who thought Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan and Sanju Samson would have been the natural successors in case Iyer and Rahul weren’t fit. Rahul still hasn’t been cleared by the way. Iyer is, and has walked straight back to the team, thereby allowing the selectors a probable two-match glimpse at him before they pick the squad for the World Cup on September 5.

The original plan may have been upheld this way but it’s also difficult to ignore how late India are leaving things to fall in place, unlike most other sides. Pakistan, for example, have Mohammad Rizwan; South Africa have Aiden Markram—both automatic picks by logic. England have been forced to leave out the exceptionally talented Harry Brook because Jos Buttler, Dawid Malan and Ben Stokes precede him at that position. Australia however have gone outside the box by overlooking Marnus Labuschagne who till this March had featured in 22 ODIs, the most among all batters to be tried at No 4, and that too by a fair margin.

Iyer has played 22 matches as well, his last ODI appearance coming in January. But at a time when sides are either giving their No 4s as long a run as possible or are going with current form irrespective of established pecking order, Iyer returns as top pick with no form to speak of because he was injured in the first place. And not just any injury, a slipped disc in his back compressing a nerve and causing ‘excruciating pain’, in Iyer’s own words. Surgery, physiotherapy followed by rehab, this has been no ordinary recovery simply because this type of injury tends to affect the backlift—the very foundation of batting.

Dravid has openly backed Iyer though, as have former players. “I would go with Surya at four as he is an experienced player and has been playing international cricket for a while,” Shikhar Dhawan has been quoted as saying by PTI. Here’s what Mohammad Kaif, one of India’s bravest middle-order ODI batters, makes of the situation. “Iyer, when he returns, will play at No. 4.”

Why? Two reasons. Yadav hasn’t quite cashed in on the situation in the limited opportunities he has got. And there is currently no one better than Iyer when it comes to leveraging the middle overs—especially against slow bowling—where he uses his nimble footwork to find gaps and build partnerships. He tends to be vulnerable against the short ball but the flat surfaces expected to be prepared for the World Cup should negate that threat to a great extent.

Throw in the 11-month phase in 2022 where Iyer had scored 667 runs in 11 innings and you get why Dravid is walking his talk of giving first right of re-entry to those who were injured. “Without it being written in stone and without it being a rule, we certainly value contributions of people who’ve been there,” Dravid had said in February. “And if they’ve missed out due to injury, they deserve the right to come back in, if they’ve performed, irrespective of what has happened in the time that they’ve been injured.”

It might seem a big hyperbole now, India hedging all their bets on Iyer based on performances that are a good year-old now. But it’s also impossible to not get tempted to see if and how the pieces come together, considering there is still the Asia Cup and the ensuing home series against Australia left for Iyer to reintegrate himself with the team in match conditions. Of course, so many things could go wrong. That, however, isn’t stopping India from striving to realise their real batting potential.


Source link

Leave a Reply