8 sixes, a strike-rate of 183.05 at an average of 54. Those are Shreyas Iyer’s stats from the just-concluded T20I series vs Bangladesh. While Iyer finished with the highest strike-rate amongst batsmen from both sides in the series, what was more important from India’s point of view was the fact that he did all this while batting at No. 4 in the batting order. Yes, the same position which has proved to be India’s Achilles heel of late.
Ambati Rayudu, Vijay Shankar, KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant are just a few of the numerous players India had tried in their never-ending search for a suitable No. 4 spot. But none of the above names could lay an outright claim to the crucial batting position in the limited number of chances that they got as India were eliminated in the World Cup 2019 semi-final. Meanwhile, Iyer had to bear the disappointment of being left out of the World Cup squad
After the World Cup ouster, India persisted with Pant at No. 4 in white-ball cricket. In 7 outings since the semi-final, Pant managed to cross 20 just once – during his 65* vs West Indies at Providence. Fair to say, his performances with the bat failed to inspire confidence among the team management.
During the same time, Iyer scored 2 match-winning half-centuries in the 4 chances he got while playing at No. 5. That’s probably when the team management decided to bump Iyer a spot above. And the refreshing effects were for all to see during the 1st T20I vs Bangladesh.
Coming in at 36/2, Iyer showed positive intent early on in his innings as he launched the spinner Aminul Islam for 2 monstrous sixes in his first 8 balls. For viewers, it was a welcome shift in the Indian strategy of looking to consolidate early on before going for the big hits later in the innings. Even though Iyer was dismissed after scoring 22, his innings was a good glimpse of what lied in store for Indian fans in the future. In the 2nd match in Rajkot, Iyer (24* off 13) was at his prolific best again as he completed the winning formalities after Rohit Sharma’s whirlwind 85 had brought India close to victory.
It was, however, not till the series decider vs Bangladesh in Nagpur on Sunday that Iyer truly looked like he belonged to the No. 4 spot. The stage was set for the right-hander to guide the Indian innings after the side had lost both the openers inside the powerplay. On a slow VCA pitch, Iyer judged the conditions pretty early and eschewed the big shots while Rahul kept finding the boundaries. It wasn’t until the 11th over of the innings and off the 13th ball he faced that Iyer hit the ball in the air. But when he tried it against – yes you guessed it, Aminul – the ball sailed into the night sky for a 6. That moment onwards, Iyer didn’t take a step backward and was particularly severe on the spinners, hitting Afif Hossain for 3 successive 6s in the 15th over. By the time he was dismissed for 62 off just 33 balls, India had progressed to 144 in the 17th over and were looking at a 170+ total.
“For me personally, they (team management) have given me a heads up that ‘You’ll be there at No.4. So just back yourself and believe in yourself’. It has been a really important last few series for me to set the benchmark at the No. 4 position, which all of us are competing for, at the moment,” Iyer said at the post-match press conference.
Iyer went on to highlight the importance of the No. 4 spot and how he had adapted to the game situation at different times.
“Even if Kohli and Rohit get out, we need someone to finish the game and bat till the end.’ That is a No. 4’s role. That’s what I was trying to replicate today and it worked out really well for me. I am really open-minded and can bat at any number. So I just like to back myself in tough situations and today’s innings showed that I can bat under pressure as well, explained Iyer.
Though it’s early days but Iyer’s approach does seem to inspire the confidence that he can shoulder the responsibility of the No. 4 position in the near future for India, especially with next year’s T20 World Cup already on the radar. What the team needs to continue doing is backing the batsman to do his job the way he feels right. On Iyer’s part, this might finally be the moment when he cements his permanent place in the Indian team.