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India v New Zealand

Shreyas Iyer’s special maiden showing marks out a player of rare class

by Divy Tripathi 3 minute read

A spectacular debut for Shreyas Iyer is good news for the India Test setup, writes Divy Tripathi.

Shreyas Iyer’s green run at the Green Park continued as he bailed out India for the second time in the Test, sparing the blushes of India’s senior after another collective failure. He walked in at 106-3 in the first innings, and started the rebuild for India while surviving some close shaves on a slow wicket. His first runs came from a mistimed loft which just evaded Kane Williamson running back, but from then on he batted like an equal to Ajinkya Rahane, and then took the mantle of senior batter after the latter was dismissed. Iyer negated Williamson’s tactic of trying to get some ‘easy’ overs through, attacking Rachin Ravindra to good effect. He upped India’s scoring rate, and forced New Zealand to resort to a negative bowling line.

Having finished day one unbeaten on 75, he returned with force on the next day, and completed his century even as wickets fell on the other end. An ambitious stroke into the covers ended his knock of 104, but Shreyas wasn’t done with the game yet.

In the second innings, India were effectively 41-3 when he walked in and soon were 51-5. He took on the mantle to rebuild the India innings once more, this time along with Ravichandran Ashwin. At the end of the day, his 65 ensured that India were able to post a formidable total on a wearing wicket. The knock was a valuable one for India, and a record-breaking one too. No India batter before him had posted a century and a half-century on Test debut, and only Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have scored more runs on debut for India.

This was a special effort in many ways, but Iyer tried to keep himself level-headed. After the fourth day, Iyer spoke of his effort. “During my Ranji days I remember I used to walk in similar kind of situations. So my mindset was just to play the session, and try to play as many balls as possible. I wasn’t thinking way ahead.”

This wasn’t the first invocation of his time in Ranji trophy during this Test. Earlier, while speaking to Suryakumar Yadav, Iyer had talked about his special Kanpur connection. “We were in the same situation in Kanpur (in 2014). We were 20 or 30 for five, and then I added 150 runs with tail-enders, and got to a good position for the team. This is one of the luckiest grounds I have played on.”

Green Park might’ve given luck to Shreyas, but he is the one to have made the most of it.

He had an average of 52.18 in first-class cricket before making his Test debut. But what made the widely touted batter stand out was his strike-rate of 81.54. His second season was especially impressive. Iyer hit 1,321 runs, at the time the second most by a batter in a single Ranji Trophy campaign.

As he stated earlier, he has been used to these situations for Mumbai as well. However, a naturally aggressive batter, he can also take the game away from the opposition, as he showed against Baroda in the 2018/19 Ranji season. In that game, he hit a 139-ball 178 in less than 24 hours after landing from New Zealand.

While aggression has been his forte, Iyer is a smart operator too. Today, he adopted the policy of wait-and-watch. Speaking at stumps, he said, “It was really tough [to curb my natural instincts], Rahul sir had told me ‘You need to play as much as possible, only then we can get to a good total’. I decided that I will play as many balls as possible, and see that we get to a good total.”

Iyer has not only made a strong case for his retention in the next game and the upcoming South Africa tour, but also as a permanent No.5 option.

This might be just one game, but given the condition of India’s middle-order, Iyer has given himself the best possible start. He has presented himself as a player who is clearly not overawed by the Test stage. Greater challenges await, but this might have been the start of something quite special

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