Team India two years too late in arbitrating Shreyas Iyer as No.4

Team India two years too late in arbitrating Shreyas Iyer as No.4

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The Indian team management has been making mistakes aplenty and learning from them one at a time. But a more ideal scenario would’ve been shunning those evitable blunders. One of the major examples of this redundant case is Shreyas Iyer’s story, which has been - by all means - eventful. 

Not necessarily positive, but definitely eventful. 

After his IPL 2015 exploits, followed by a brilliant Ranji trophy season, Iyer broke into the international circuit in late 2017.  

9, 88, 65, 18, 30, DNB. That’s all our main man got in the first spell of his ODI career, that started in December 2017. In the five innings that Iyer played, he smashed two fifties against Sri Lanka and South Africa, maintaining an average of 42 while scoring at a strike rate of 96.33. 

February 16, 2018, playing at Centurion, was the last time the Mumbai batsman donned the Team India colours. 

"I don’t feel anything from the inside these days. For me somehow it (national call-up) isn’t important. I am emotionless now. Someone comes, and says, I am in team, I am not in team, kuch farak nahi padhta (it doesn’t matter much)," Iyer had stated out of frustration. 

And yet, Shreyas Iyer remained out of the radar of the selectors and that would go on for another 18 months. He was overlooked for the 2018 tour of England and the following Asia Cup as well. By the time India toured Australia and New Zealand, it was clear that Iyer wouldn’t get the nod for the 2019 World Cup. A huge prospect sent completely consigned to oblivion just like the Azor Ahai theory in Game of Thrones.

Be it for Mumbai in the major domestic tournaments or as captain of the Delhi Capitals franchise in the IPL, Iyer refused to stop delivering. While his performances never bowed due to the non-selection pressure and anxiety, there was an obvious underlying frustration that often surfaced in his interviews. “Even great talent needs opportunity,” said Iyer in an explicit indication to the selectors.

"Yeah, I felt that way. 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," a disappointed Shreyas Iyer had lamented.

It’s ironic that India ignored Iyer for the simple fact that the team had not solved that middle-order conundrum at any point in those two years. Then started the experimentation phase for the No. 4 spot in the Indian ODI team with Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, Vijay Shankar and Rishabh Pant auditioning for the position with none of them managing to seal the deal. MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya, too, were often seen being promoted up the order. 

Meanwhile, Iyer kept waiting for his chance to break into the international scene again. He was hopeful, and why wouldn’t he be. After all, he was incessantly scoring at the domestic level and was ready to bat at any position if and when given a chance. 

"I back myself at any number. I am just waiting for my chance. I am doing really well in every tournament. I am enjoying my cricket and not thinking about the selection process. Selection is not in my hands. My job is to perform and I'm doing that. Anything can happen (in the future), you can get a random call from the selectors that you've been selected for the World Cup," revealed a hopeful Iyer.

But instead of considering him as the replacement for Ambati Rayudu in the World Cup, India flew out Vijay Shankar to England. The fact that Shankar was, in fact, second choice behind back-up opener KL Rahul for the No. 4 position in the ICC mega event proves how India’s prolonged experimentation was a failure.

World Cup done and dusted, India were still stuck with their demons. Iyer was incorporated into the squad for the home T20I series against South Africa. All the confusion in the middle-order mix resulted in an apparent “miscommunication” between Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer which nearly saw both players walking out to bat at the same time, during the third T20 International in Bangalore. 

While the Indian skipper laughed the incident off, in the post-match presentation, it showcased the underlying conundrum in the batting unit. Both of them thought they were designated to play at the No.4 position and hence the confusion. Again, Pant was asked to go on and bat ahead of Iyer.

So many rotations. So many iterations. So much drama circling the No 4 spot that fans started believing that the team will never reach a conclusion with regards to this problem.

A problem that always had a solution lurking around but never taken into consideration. 

So many potential Virat Kohlis in the world emulators right now but the only guy who reminds me of the Indian skipper, not only in his batting but his attitude too, is the very electric - Shreyas Iyer. Even Kohli has admitted to the fact that the 24-year-old batsman is a “very confident guy and has the right attitude”. 

He remains confident, plays his natural game and in fact punches above his weight when it comes to delivering for the team. A testimony to this would be his innings at Nagpur against Bangladesh. The youngster scored a splendid 33-ball 62 which included a hattrick of long and strong sixes in Afif Hossain’s over,  all going beyond 90 meters. 

So there’s power in his personality, and his muscle. 

Iyer has the required maturity too, as we’ve seen in how he dealt with his selection issues spanning almost two years since his debut.

And the fact that he hammered those sixes against Afif is not all about the power but for a pure skill of playing spin well. The way he had played Aminul Islam’s leg-spin in the first T20I in Delhi is only an example. 

Even in the tour match against Australia for India A in 2017, Iyer has smashed sixes against Steven O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon – the pair that would win the Pune Test for Australia.

Shreyas Iyer’s class wasn’t built in a day, neither was his story written overnight. He has always been the player that he is today starting from his footwork to his ability to hit sixes to his mental strength. India picking him now is not a revelation but a redemption.

Whatever the management has planned now is going to be the second best thing for Iyer as he has to restart his career. Had he been picked two years ago, the Kohli-prototype would’ve been groomed by now into as reliable a batsman like a Virat or a Rohit.  

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