Shreyas Iyer knocking on Indian selectors' door with double ton in warm-up against Australia

Knock knock
Who’s there?
Shreyas Iyer
Shreyas Iyer who?

That’s exactly the question everyone was asking when Shreyas Iyer made his Ranji Trophy debut against Jammu and Kashmir in December 2014, just a day after his 20th birthday. Maybe the Mumbai selectors saw the game against the unfancied Jammu and Kashmir side as a cushion that might help break the fall of a player in first class cricket.

Alas, Iyer scored seven and one, and Mumbai lost the game at their home ground, the Wankhede, despite the visitors playing their first ever game at that venue.

India A's Shreyas Iyer celebrates after scoring a double century in the practice match against Australia. AFP

India A's Shreyas Iyer celebrates after scoring a double century in the practice match against Australia. AFP

Knock knock (a little louder)
Who’s there?
Shreyas Iyer
Shreyas Iyer who?

It would have been easy to make Iyer a scapegoat for that humiliating loss. Instead the Mumbai management did the right thing, and stuck with him through the 2014-15 season. Iyer rewarded that faith with 809 runs at an average of over 50, and finished seventh on the highest scorers list. His strike rate of 75 was by far the highest among all the batters in the top 10, which included aggressive players like Robin Uthappa and Dinesh Karthik. Not bad for a debut season.

Knock knock (forcefully now)
Who’s there?
Shreyas Iyer
Shreyas Iyer who?

IPL 2015 saw him snapped up by the Delhi Daredevils for Rs 2.6 crore (overshooting his base price of Rs 10 lakhs by 26 times), and once again, he repaid the faith. He top scored for his franchise in his debut season, outdoing team mates like JP Duminy and Yuvraj Singh. He scored 439 runs off the 342 balls he faced in the 14 games that season. The IPL is where players become household names, and suddenly, no one was asking ‘Shreyas Iyer who?’

Knock knock (repeatedly)
Who’s there?
Shreyas Iyer
Shreyas Iyer who?

The second season of First-Class cricket is where a player is supposed to be found out. Opposition video analysts now have enough footage to do their homework. The experienced bowlers, still smarting from the sting of being hit by the new kid last season, spend their waking hours planning your demise. Beginner’s luck runs out, the scores have to be earned the hard way. The second season of the Ranji Trophy is sandpaper, and will mercilessly show you who you really are.

That’s exactly what happened to Iyer. But not in the way that you might think. Who he really was turned out to be the highest run-getter, in just his second Ranji season, by a mile. He carved out 1321 runs averaging more than 73, with a strike rate of over 90. He was a full 442 runs ahead of the player who came in second. He scored a century in the final that helped Mumbai win the title. After starting his Ranji Trophy career with a crushing loss, he had come full circle in just two years.

Knock knock (not so loud)
Who’s there?
Shreyas Iyer
Shreyas Iyer who?

IPL 2016 was supposed to be Iyer’s watershed. His temperament was built for the limited overs game, and his technique and fitness had been examined and deemed worthy by the rigours of First-Class cricket. An India call-up was probably one good IPL season away.

Few could explain what happened next.

Iyer’s season finished with him playing just six games and scoring just 30 runs. Three of those innings were ducks. From being the top scorer in the Ranji Trophy, he went to holding a record usually reserved for awkward tailenders.

Abhinav Bindra, in his autobiography penned by Rohit Brijnath, said “The critical moment in sport is often when realisation slithers into the athletes brain: ‘Damn, I can win this. I should win this.’ That emotion, which he has not been aware of, must now be managed.” Perhaps that is what happened to Iyer, who failed when he was so close to earning the India cap.

Knock knock (with renewed confidence)
Who’s there?
Shreyas Iyer
Shreyas Iyer who?

Iyer put his IPL 2016 behind him and looked ahead to an India A tour to Australia. He credited that tour for the more relaxed approach he now exhibits. He scored 725 runs in the Ranji Trophy 2016-17 season, coming at a more sedate average of 42.6 and a less cavalier strike rate of 62; it was still enough to help Mumbai to their second final in two years.

Since then, Iyer has had opportunities to play visiting teams in the warm up games ahead of the tests. Against Bangladesh, he raced to a century off just 91 balls, helping India A overshadow the visitors. But there were a couple of reasons why that knock did not grab as many eyeballs: First, it was against Bangladesh, who are not the strongest of international sides. Second, it was one of three centuries in the innings, one of which came from a number eight batter.

Knock knock (louder again)
Who’s there?
Shreyas Iyer
Shreyas Iyer who?

Scoring hundreds not making people sit up and notice? Some would have grumbled, but Iyer did the next best thing. He scored a double.

India A games set the tone. If an opposition is allowed to steamroll the A team, they carry that much more confidence into the series proper. India A games are much more than chances for players to stake claims, they are opportunities to make psychological dents in the visiting teams, to restrict the amount of confidence that they can take. Against Australia, Iyer succeeded on both counts.

Iyer hit the first ball he faced, off Nathan Lyon, Australia’s best spinner, for six. He added six more sixes to go with his 27 fours. Undefeated on 85 on day two, he added 117 more runs to his score on day three, to register his highest First-Class score against a watered down Australian attack. He got his second First-Class double hundred in the process. 202 not out against Australia. Not a bad addition to his resume.

But what does this all mean in the bigger picture? There is currently a waiting list for an entry into the Indian team. Karun Nair made a triple hundred in his last test innings, and was left out. Still, the man who will feel the pressure of Iyer’s runs is Cheteshwar Pujara. Iyer, batting at number three, provides an attractive option should Pujara be injured or not be able to reprise his purple patch against Australia.

The wait could be long. But Iyer has made sure he has his foot in the door.

Knock knock (the door almost flying off its hinges)
Who’s there?
Shreyas Iyer
Shreyas Iyer who?
Shreyas Iyer, the young man who is knocking the door down for a spot in the Indian team. That’s who.

The writer is a former India and Maharashtra cricketer and now a freelance journalist. She tweets @SnehalPradhan


Published Date: Feb 20, 2017 02:26 pm | Updated Date: Feb 20, 2017 04:42 pm

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