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A Shreyas Iyer century that was five years in making

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A Shreyas Iyer century that was five years in making

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Bastab K Parida

02/06/2020

When you take a turn to Worli from the backside of Shivaji Park Maidan in Mumbai, the first thing that will attract your attention is a big Bal Thackeray statue. You can find a man, selling Vada Pav there, happily reminiscing about many tales of Mumbai’s Maidan cricket culture.

Three months ago, I, unaware of the guy’s knowledge on Mumbai cricket, had stumbled across the stall to gauge on some Vada Pav, but little did I imagine, what I was into. “Yeh jo Iyer, Shaw hai na, ye sab mere samne bade hue hai,” he said nonchalantly to a customer, which directly brought my attention to the discussion. With little hesitation, I interrupted him and asked, “Aapko kya lagta hain unka talent ke baare mein? Kya wo tik payenge?” “Zarror,” came the reply. “Bahut ache cricketer hai hamare wo donon,” he added.

The conversation with him went for a good half an hour before I took the road to SiddhiVinayak Temple to pick my parents but that 30 minutes was enough for us to exchange contacts. In Mumbai, it is not a surprise to stumble upon chaiwalas, panwallas, and Vada Pav stalls, with thousands of tales of Maidan cricket, but the confidence that Raju Bhaiyaa exuded that day was second to none. And of course, his assertiveness about Iyer, even though he had played less than 15 matches for India, struck a chord. 

Despite him being a victim of perception and selector’s short-sightedness, Shreyas Iyer emerged as one of the flag bearers of a new set of confident Indian cricketers, rising through the ranks with sheer disdain for desi foods and an affinity to jump and fly in the gym. Iyer, for what was it worth, was not only knocking on the door of the selection committee but also brought the house down with consistent performances at the A-level and for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy. He was screaming for a call-up, only to be delayed and pulled back for bigger forces. However, the damning indictment of the projected reality was pretty hard to miss.

 © BCCI

He has taken 38 matches - 15 ODIs to be particular - to get to his first triple figure mark at the international level but those who have ever watched him live from the ground, it was just a matter of time and mere echo of the truest glory which built up his legend in maidan cricket. Even during those tentative times and struggles in the state association - for change in multiple captains and sudden call-up of international cricketers - Iyer never sacrificed any style in producing career of incredible substance. It recently came to the fore that he has some serious problems against quality pace bowling but the rewards of giving himself the full rein gave him a chance to stabilize and then blossom.

It is only prudent that I would bring MS Dhoni in the context. In the World T20 final 13 years ago, MS Dhoni in his first assignment as an international captain, had told Joginder Sharma something very spectacular. "You have bowled so many overs in domestic cricket with so much dedication, when no one is watching. Don't worry, cricket won't let you down now." In a parallel world, Iyer would have been Joginder, doing the tough job because that is the best thing for the team and slowly seeping himself into glory. Today’s century was not just a slap on the face of a lot of critics who had doubted his immense potential but also an occasion for him to celebrate the result of years and years of consistent performances and hard work. It was five years in the making.

When Raju Bhaiya told me a story of Iyer smashing five consecutive fours through covers to a school bowler in the Shivaji Park nets, my eyes automatically wandered back to the historic ground - with thousands of while-clad players sincerely practicing without giving a solitary damn about who was watching them. It was perhaps the scene of Shreyas Iyer too, setting the stage on fire alone, no contemplation and no extra burden on his head. Probably because he realised “different roads sometimes lead to the same castle” and it is absolutely fine as long as you reach your final destination.

The run-scoring temperament hasn't nosedived in his six-year-long senior career for Mumbai, but his evolution as a cricketer is there for everyone to see. The technically-sound yet carried-away mindless hitter of the cricket ball has been replaced by a more mature and systematic batsman, who knows what he is doing and has a calculated approach in his head. Today, in Hamilton, he was constantly batting in the 75-78 S/R zone but never let that pressure got to his head even though Virat Kohli was just dismissed. By sticking around and letting KL Rahul find his feet, Iyer not only showed a different facet of his batting but also ended up having a respectable strike-rate of 96.26 to his name. 

The news of Iyer's century would have reached him by now and Raju Bhaiyaa must be a happy man today, selling Pav with more Shengdana Chatni than usual, for “his” Iyer has scored his maiden international century which he knew all those years ago. Virat Kohli must be a happy person too that the investment that he was too afraid to make, is returning rich dividends as they enter the World T20 year. It is the time for Iyer to keep on repaying their faith, with interest.

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