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Iyer proving his worth at No. 4 | Cricket

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Iyer proving his worth at No. 4 | Cricket


At 5.24pm on Sunday, Shreyas Iyer rolled his wrists and pulled a short delivery by Netherlands seamer Bas de Leede to deep midwicket. As the ball ran all along the turf, Iyer completed a single, took his helmet off, wiped the sweat off his brow, raised his bat and beamed a wide smile to the 25,500-strong crowd at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. Calm and muted in celebration as he soaked in the applause of an appreciative audience, Iyer was clearly in far better mood than he was at a presser ten days ago.

India’s Shreyas Iyer celebrates his century during their match against Netherlands (ANI )
India’s Shreyas Iyer celebrates his century during their match against Netherlands (ANI )

He had made 82 against Sri Lanka in Mumbai that evening, but one of the first questions to him after India’s 303-run victory was on his perceived chink against the short ball. Perhaps sensing it was going to come his way – he had been dismissed to short deliveries in games against New Zealand and England before that — Iyer shot back: “Troubled me? Have you seen how many pull shots I’ve scored? Especially which have gone for four. You guys have created that environment outside that he can’t play a short ball. It’s just that when I go to hit some shots, you are bound to get out and sometimes it may work, sometimes it may not. And majority of the time, it hasn’t worked for me, maybe that’s the reason you think it’s a problem for me. But in my mind, I know there’s no problem.”

While the jury may still be out on Iyer’s ability to pull and handle chin music, what isn’t in doubt is his growing importance to India’s middle order. At No. 4 – the uncertainty over the position afflicted India’s World Cup campaign four years ago with four players occupying the position across ten matches – Iyer is turning himself into an indispensable cog. Having struck impressive half-centuries against Sri Lanka and South Africa in India’s previous two games, this was his turn to go big and revel against a pedestrian Dutch attack in friendly conditions.

He didn’t spurn the opportunity, smashing an unbeaten 128 off 94 balls and stitching a 208-run stand with KL Rahul as India surpassed 400 for the first time in this World Cup. It now means that Iyer has 421 runs in nine games at an average of 70.16 and a strike rate of 106.58 in this World Cup.

Through the middle overs, Iyer’s ability to launch big hits against spin is particularly impressive. Blessed with nimble footwork and a free-flowing bat swing, Iyer can step out and target the arc from long-off to deep midwicket. Or when the ball is a fraction short, he can rock back and pull imperiously.

The situation on Sunday – he came in at 129/2 in 17.4 overs — was never going to test him. So, Iyer was able to seamlessly shift through the gears once he had his eye in. But Iyer’s worth is tied to thriving in pressure situations and bailing the team out of tight corners. He did that against South Africa at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. On a challenging surface, he took the lead in his partnership with Virat Kohli and put the pressure back on the Proteas bowlers just as skipper Temba Bavuma was beginning to gain a semblance of control.

“He brings temperament. You just look at even some of his knocks under pressure, how he’s able to actually bring the best out of himself under those pressure situations,” India coach Rahul Dravid had said on Saturday. “Everyone will have areas that they need to work on and need to improve, there’s no complete batsman who can say that I know everything. But at the end of the day, you have to be judged by the results you produce. And the runs you score and when you score them. And I think Shreyas, one of the things that does stand out.”

Though Iyer may not concede, opponents armed with strong pace attacks will continue to try and prey on a possible susceptibility against the short ball given his lean average while playing the pull. For the moment though, he’s ensuring that other facets come to the fore.

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