India’s search for a No 4 batsman had started right after their loss to Pakistan in the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy. The rare collapse of India’s famed top three of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan, and the subsequent failure of their middle order to do the repair job, were at the heart of India’s infamous defeat to their rivals in that match. However, it was the failure of their No 4 batsman, Yuvraj Singh, to churn out significant contributions throughout the duration of the tournament, which caught our eyes the most.
A 105 runs in four innings at an average of just 35.00, which was also boosted by an unbeaten knock, was certainly not enough to meet the requirements of the position and, thus, began the quest to find the ideal No 4 batsman with the 2019 World Cup just a year-and-a-half away.
Mumbai batsman Shreyas Iyer was one of the first few players to audition for the No 4 spot.
And, his returns of 210 runs in five innings at a healthy average of 42, which also included two scores of fifty or more, suggested that India’s search should have ended right then and there.
Although he didn’t bat at No 4 in either of his knocks, the qualities he showed – his temperament, ability to rotate the strike and play the big shots with equal ease – suggested that he would be the ideal choice. However, the selectors chose to drop him inexplicably in order to perform a few more experiments and iterations.
They tried 12 more players at that position since then which included the likes of Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Ajinkya Rahane, Dinesh Karthik.
Moreover, the experiments continued even after they had embarked upon their World Cup journey and the likes of Rishabh Pant and Vijay Shankar were the subjects of it.
However, none of the batsmen seemed qualified enough to handle the responsibilities of this position even after a trial of around two years. Some of them did average over 40 in the limited number of opportunities they got, but their accumulations were once again boosted a lot by their unbeaten knocks, which means their average returns per innings wasn’t satisfactory at all.
India Turn Back to Shreyas Iyer
Such poor returns from these batsmen, and yet another batting debacle which saw India bowing out of the World Cup after the semi-final defeat to New Zealand in an embarrassing manner, meant that they had to come back to the batsman whom they had dropped a year ago without citing any valid reason. That batsman was none other than Shreyas Iyer.
The 24-year-old had been churning out runs consistently in domestic cricket over the years. A tally of 4,592 runs in 54 first-class matches at an outstanding average of 52.18 serve testimony of his quality as a batsman. Moreover, a tally of around 2,905 runs at an average of 43.05 in List A cricket and 2815 runs at an average of 31.98 in 101 T20 matches also give an idea about his adaptability across formats.
All these runs have come while batting mostly in the middle-order, yet the selectors had turned a blind-eye towards Iyer.
So much that even he had to vent out his frustration in an interview recently.
“If there was some other player in place of me, he would have also felt disappointed. Your eventual goal is to play for your country. I was disappointed when I was dropped and didn’t get fair enough chances,” Iyer had told The Times of India back in March 2019.
Disappointed, But Not Out
Selection wasn’t in his hands but Iyer kept doing what was in his control all this while, which is scoring runs consistently. He showed what he is capable of in the Indian Premier League this year.
The Delhi Capitals qualified for the playoffs after a long time and it was Iyer who led from the front with 463 runs at an excellent average 30.86, while batting mostly at No 3.
He continued his rich vein of form in the One-Day series between India A and West Indies A as well and scored a total of 187 runs during the series at an outstanding average of 62.33.
The right-handed batsman kept knocking on the selection doors continuously with his performances and the selectors finally decided to give him a go as they named him in the T20I and ODI squads for West Indies tour.
Although he didn’t get the chance to play in the T20I series, he made the most out of his opportunities when he got the chance to showcase his skills in the ODI series. The first ODI got washed out by rain and he lost one chance to prove himself but the second ODI brought him the opportunity to do exactly what he wanted. Everything was set up nicely for him after he walked out to bat at No 5 after the fall of Rishabh Pant’s wicket in the 23rd over of the innings.
Iyer Should Have Batted at No 4
Iyer should have ideally batted at four but it was yet another tactical blunder from the management to send Pant ahead of him. Nevertheless, Iyer came into this match with a completely different mindset and that could be understood from the words he spoke in the pre-match press conference, “Personally, I am not thinking about batting at No 4. I want to be someone who is very flexible batting at any number or if you go into any situation you should be able to grab that opportunity and make the best use of it”.
And Iyer did exactly that when he walked out to bat at No 5 in team India colours after a gap of one-and-a-half years. It was a tricky wicket to bat on. The ball was gripping off the surface and was stopping a bit after pitching. So, it required the batsmen to play the waiting game. The deck demanded the batsmen to play according to the merit of the deliveries. Any forced shot could lead to the downfall of the batsmen and the departures of Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant in a similar manner had already made a good example of it.
Iyer knew exactly what to do. After all he has been in these conditions for over a month now and, hence, he has got well accustomed to it.
He started off in a very confident manner and his first boundary, placed between backward point and gully with flawless timing, that too, off only the sixth delivery he faced, summed up the kind of nick he was in. Two more boundaries followed soon after and Iyer had raced away to a flying start having accumulated 22 runs off his first 18 deliveries.
He went on to score just two more boundaries and one six after that, and shared a stand of 125 runs for the fourth wicket with Virat Kohli. There wasn’t even a single shot which showed that he was trying to muscle the ball away into the stands. His final return was a knock of 71 runs scored at a strike-rate of 104.41, thus, making him the only batsman with 20-plus score to have a strike-rate of over 100 in this match. Yet, the base of his innings was built upon strike-rotation as only 36.62 percent of his runs came in boundaries.
So, this sums up his skill and suggests why he is the ideal choice for a No 4 batsman. He can keep the scoring rate up by playing even risk-free shots and that is what India requires in their batting lineup after their terrific trio of Rohit, Dhawan and Kohli. The Indian think-tank needs to realise this soon, else it won’t take long for the ship to sail away.
(Prasenjit Dey is a freelance cricket writer. He can be reached at @CricPrasen. The opinions expressed are the author’s own and The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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