By Our Sports Affairs Bureau
CUTTACK/BHUBANESWAR: The historic Barabati Stadium is getting ready witness a final battle between the host and the visiting West Indies on Sunday. Both teams had their nets practice on Saturday morning and afternoon and both teams back to Hotel Mayfair Langoon in Bhubaneswar.
Addressing a pre-match press conference in Cuttack, Indian Middle Order Shreyas Iyer said “At the start, when I started playing first-class cricket, I was a flamboyant player and I never used to take responsibility,” Iyer recalled on the eve of the ODI series decider in Cuttack. “I just used to back my instincts and go with the flow. Lately, I’ve realised that once you play at the highest level you’ve got to take that maturity to another stage.
“You’ve got to play according to the team demands, and that’s what I did the other day [in Chennai]. The team didn’t demand me to score big shots at that time and we just needed a big partnership and we just needed the scoreboard to keep going. And that’s what I did. I feel that whatever the situation demands, you’ve got to play accordingly and I’m really happy with what I did in the first game.”
Iyer’s temperament came to the fore on a sluggish Chepauk track. in the ODI series opener after India had lost KL Rahul and Virat Kohli cheaply. He collected runs in risk-free fashion in a 114-run partnership with Pant and rescued India to 287 for 8. When Iyer entered at the end of the seventh over, left-arm seamer Sheldon Cottrell was in the middle of an incisive spell but Iyer saw him off and then worked his way through against the rest of the West Indies attack.
Iyer’s middle-order gears were on bright display when the series was on the line in Visakhapatnam. After Rahul and Rohit Sharma had reeled off centuries, Iyer extended India’s dominance with a 32-ball 53. He was on a run-a-ball 16 at one point during the second ODI, but then lined up Roston Chase’s offspin for five successive boundaries in a 31-run over – the most India have ever scored in an over in an ODI – to swell the total to 387 for 5.
The Iyer that turned up in Visakhapatnam was the one who had torched Indian domestic cricket with his thrilling strokeplay. In the 2015-16 Ranji Trophy final, Iyer made a counterattacking century on a green top against Saurashtra in Pune. He struck 117 off 142 balls at a strike rate of 82.39 to set up Mumbai’s push for their 41st Ranji title.
Iyer, though, said that he has now tempered his natural aggression to meet the demands of international cricket. He echoed Pant’s thoughts, saying that he has learned to play according to the situation in international cricket.
Some of that responsibility and maturity comes from having led a young and vibrant Delhi Capitals line-up to the playoffs in IPL 2019 earlier this year. Iyer had been thrown into the deep end midway through IPL 2018, after Gautam Gambhir had stepped down as the franchise’s captain.
In his very first innings as captain, Iyer responded brilliantly with a match-winning 40-ball 93 not out against Kolkata Knight Riders at Feroz Shah Kotla. Then, in Delhi’s run to the knockouts the next year, Iyer hit 463 runs in 16 innings at an average of 30.86 and strike rate of nearly 120. Most of those runs came on the tough pitches in Delhi and it had impressed coach Ricky Ponting.
“Ricky Ponting is a very positive guy,” Iyer said. “[He] backs every player and that’s the best quality about him and he also treats everybody equally. So, he’s got an amazing nature as a coach. His man-management skill is outstanding.”
Having rattled off four successive fifty-plus scores in his last four innings – two of those came at No.5 in the Caribbean and the other two at No.4 in the ongoing series in India – Iyer believed that he could also float in the middle order.
“The previous ODIs that I played, I was batting at No.5, so it’s not like I’ve been stable at No.4,” he said. “But right now in the last two games, I’ve been batting at No.4. So, I’m flexible at batting at any number. It’s just that you’ve got to play according to the situation and what the team demands and that’s what I did. And I know I can play in both flows. I can even play strokes and I can even nudge the ball and take singles. I know my game really well now and I can play accordingly.”
Iyer also drew confidence from India’s thumping victory in a must-win game for them in the second ODI and hoped for more of the same in the decider on Sunday.
“The last game was also do or die. If we lost that, we’d lost the series,” he said. “So, we will play this game with a similar approach. When the stakes are high, all the players lift their socks. One of the main players [should] perform and take the team to a platform from where we can win. Someone will take responsibility and create a magical moment tomorrow.”
Since the 2015 World Cup, India have tried out as many as 14 players at No.4 in ODI cricket. Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni, Ajinkya Rahane, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, Vijay Shankar, Manoj Tiwary, Virat Kohli and Kedar Jadhav have all had a crack at this slot over the past four years, with no batsman really nailing it down in this period.
The Indian management has turned to Iyer following the 2019 World Cup and although he has had just two hits at No. 4, the 25-year old has shown the gears and temperament to become a long-term middle-order option. Iyer and Rishabh Pant, who has got the chance to bat at No. 4 seven times since March 2015, tend to swap positions in order to maintain a left-right combination.