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Shreyas Iyer: A man who keeps reminding Team India that he is the No.4 they always had

Iyer is an epitome of what you call ‘a calm amidst a storm’ and in the past five months, he has shown why he was always the answer to India’s search of an ideal No.4 batsman.

Shreyas Iyer
Shreyas Iyer. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Talent – What is it about this six-letter word that gets people all worked up when they see someone boasting every ounce of it. But, how do you define talent? What is that one thing that you see in an individual and you go, ‘Right! Here is someone to look forward to.’ In the cricketing context, is it the finesse of the technique or the nonchalance in stroke-making by a youngster that enthrals you to the point that you go ‘Wow!’

Former Indian captain Rahul Dravid made a very pertinent point a few years ago when he said that we judge talent wrong. We judge it on the basis of how good a batsman when he is hitting those outrageous strokes, but perhaps we do not see the other side. We do not assess if that batsman is responding to difficult questions posed at him by the conditions, match-situation and the opposition bowlers or how he is responding after being thrown at the deep end.

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Did you get gobsmacked when you first saw Iyer bat, as you got after seeing someone like Rishabh Pant or KL Rahul? You didn’t, right? Iyer does not come across as one of those batsmen whose strokeplay or a mere presence on the crease would leave you at the edge of your seat. But, in the past five months, has your opinion changed about him? Have you discovered the side of him that you’d have previously ignored?  Did you learn about his temperament; the least talked about facet required to be successful?

Iyer is an epitome of what you call ‘a calm amidst a storm’. And, in the past five months, he has shown why he was always the answer to India’s search of an ideal No.4 batsman. Iyer has always remained under the shadow of Rishabh Pant since the U-19 World Cup in 2016. 

While Pant hogged all the headlines, got chances ahead of his U-19 captain because of his precocious hitting talent, Iyer has steadily remained under his shadow, doing his own things besides waiting for that elusive national call-up.

A perfect mix of calm demeanour coupled with unrelenting desire to prove his worth 

Shreyas Iyer
Shreyas Iyer. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

And, that call-up came in the immediate aftermath of India’s World Cup campaign where the fatalities of their middle-order were exposed to the hilt. India was touring the West Indies and Iyer was battling it out with Manish Pandey for that elusive spot in the middle-order. Pandey got the first crack and it was only in the One-day series that Iyer got his first chance to showcase his credentials.

The right-hander scored a whirlwind 68-ball 71 in his first outing in the ODI set-up since 2018 but it was his counter-attacking 41-ball 65 in the succeeding game that really made the world stand-up. Iyer has walked into the crease after Pant had played his customary wild hoike to get dismissed for a golden duck. India, who were chasing 256 in a rain-reduced encounter, needed someone to stick around with Virat Kohli.

So, what does Iyer do? He not only stuck around with Virat but also proceeded to overshadow the Indian captain by launching a counter-attack so brutal on the West Indian attack that they were left gasping for air. Iyer had arrived. India’s No.4 had arrived. In two innings he had shown all the necessary ingredients required to be a great middle-order batsman; he had shown the will to maneuver the strike in the middle-overs while at the same time, he had also shown that he had all the gears to his batting and he knew how to use them according to the situation; the prime requisite to be a successful middle-order batsman.

Can’t play short-pitch bowling? Shreyas Iyer: ‘Bring it on!’

Shreyas Iyer
Shreyas Iyer. (Photo by DAVID ROWLAND/AFP via Getty Images)

But, one swallow doesn’t make a summer, right? Sure, it doesn’t! And, the fans were now eager to see as to how Iyer counters the challenge thrown at him by the opposition. 

Iyer continued to make runs and contribute to the teams’ cause during India’s home series against Bangladesh, West Indies and Bangladesh. He backed up his performances in the Caribbean with two equally brilliant- yet contrasting innings against Pollard’s-men in the return series. But, by now his fragilities against top-quality pace had started to surface. 

Critics and detractors had begun to question his technique against pace bowling and when Mitchell Starc set-him up brilliantly by a bumper before inducing an outside edge which was safely gobbled by the wicketkeeper Alex Carey. The challenge had been thrown. But, Iyer has seen too many far more obscure challenges than this one in his life. And, he was more than ready to counter it. So, what did he do? The right-hander, hell-bent on redeeming himself, went for the leather hunt in the series-decider at Bengaluru.

Iyer had a clear plan to counter Starc and Co. Every time the Aussie fast bowlers dished out short-pitch stuff, Iyer backed away to swat it over deep-cover or stayed deep in the crease to pull it in front of square. His 35-ball 44 was a statement that no matter what challenges are thrown at him, he’ll find a way to counter.

Shreyas Iyer etched template for any budding middle-order batsman

Shreyas Iyer
Shreyas Iyer. (Photo Source: Twitter)

181 runs in 11 games at an average of 25.85 and a strike-rate of 143.65 with just one half-century. Now, these numbers aren’t exactly one to rave out. And, Iyer knew what his next challenge was:  Make impactful runs and truckloads of them in the five-match T20I series in New Zealand. 

And, just like in the past, he was again up for it. And, we have already seen a glimpse of it in the first two games. Iyer has an incredible sense of calm; seldom is he unfazed by the match-situation. He knows exactly how to approach a situation, which sometimes tends to remind you of a young Virat Kohli. Like Virat, Shreyas relishes the obscurity of the situation, and always tends to find a way to come out on top.

The two innings that Iyer has played in the first two T20Is should be a template for any budding middle-order batsman. In the first game, Iyer came to the crease with India still needing 80 runs to overhaul New Zealand’s total of 203. He had come to the crease post the dismissal of KL Rahul and soon lost his partner Virat Kohli. India needed someone to hold the fort while at the same time ensure that the asking rate does not climb to unreachable heights. 

Iyer maneuvered the strike initially before launching into the Kiwi bowlers. Just like what he had done against Starc and co, the right-hander shuffled in his crease to unsettle the bowler’s length and forced him to bowl in his arc. Iyer finished with an unbeaten 29-ball 58 as India coasted to a six-wicket win.

Shreyas Iyer has the ability to maneuver the strike brilliantly

Shreyas Iyer (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

In the second game, the pitch was tricky. It was on a slower side and India needed someone to maneuver the strike and approach the total of 132 cautiously after they had lost both Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. Enter Iyer again; this time with a patient and cautious moniker.

The right-hander maneuvered the strike brilliantly with KL Rahul in the middle-overs, and once the threat posed by spinners was gone, he unleashed his ‘stroke-making’ moniker as he showed his full-range of strokes against Blair Tickner by smoking him over his head before nonchalantly upper-cutting the fast bowler.

Iyer was finally dismissed for 44 but not before he had shown that whatever challenges you throw at him, his calm demeanour, his astute character and an unrelenting passion to succeed, will ensure that he will come out on top, always, which again begs the question- Do we judge talent wrongly?

After all, it is not always about how good you look while hitting a cricket ball, it is also about how you react to challenges, how you overcome obscure questions, how you come out on top when thrown at the deep end. That is also talent, and Shreyas Iyer continues to prove it to the hilt every time he walks to bat at that ‘No.4 spot’.

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