While experts were worried about the No.4 slot, captain Rohit Sharma had faith in Shreyas Iyer’s ability.
Couple of weeks before the World Cup, Rohit Sharma was explaining to this newspaper about the ‘hawaa’, the atmosphere, around the No.4 spot in Indian cricket in recent years.
“Ever since the last ODI World Cup, it has followed us. And perhaps it was a problem during Virat (Kohli) and (Ravi) Shastri’s time, but I can speak confidently for us (Rohit and Rahul Dravid), that it hasn’t been an issue at all,” Rohit said.
The Indian skipper wasn’t losing sleep about the crucial batting slot because he knew there was a capable batsman who would be back by the time the World Cup began. He was in a race to get fit.
“We have Shreyas Iyer. It’s just that due to his injury, and a couple of players we tried didn’t grab the opportunities, the ‘hawaa’ once again returned but since I knew Shreyas would be back, I had no sleepless nights over it. He has been perfect for us,”.
On Wednesday afternoon, a couple of Indian batsmen Shubman Gill and Ishan Kishan batted in the nets in Pune, the bowling coach Paras Mhambrey had a word with the media, and the Indian unit dispersed after optional practice. Mhambrey’s chat revolved around the immediate future of Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohammad Shami, and the mind went to how Shreyas has killed all the pre-Asia Cup talk: how Suryakumar hasn’t taken that spot, how India had to try Axar Patel there. All that narrative is now dead, courtesy Shreyas.
India’s ODI middle order hasn’t had a batsman like Shreyas in a long while. Someone with the game and the mandate to counterattack from the first ball. Perhaps, a young Suresh Raina (circa 2011 World Cup) to an extent. The No.4 as Yuvraj Singh played it so greatly was of a different timbre; he could make a match, play the situation, gather runs at the start before forcing the rival team to go on a leather hunt.
Iyer plays it differently; he goes after the bowling from pretty much get-go. Like he did against Pakistan in the Asia Cup after a flurry of wickets within a couple of overs.
In those situations, Yuvraj would go slow as he knew the team’s chances would brighten if he stayed. Iyer also plays the situation but his reading and role is different; he counterattacks, knowing that if the tide shifts, then the danger will fade. If he gets out, as he did against Australia, slapping a wide one to cover, KL Rahul is behind him to drop anchor. In that aspect, Iyer’s counter-attacking fury is balanced by Rahul’s calm composure.
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Rohit might have slept well, knowing Shreyas was coming back, but it wasn’t an easy time for the man himself. A bulged slip-disc had required surgery and he was
out for a few months. Such was the untimeliness and extent of the problem that the friends and family would suggest divine interventions — like a puja — to ward off ill luck. Shreyas is superstitious. In the past, he would pat the same stray dog in his old neighbourhood before leaving for every game.
The Iyers are a god-fearing middle-class family. The senior Iyers, Santhosh and Rohini, are a delightful Mangalorean couple – jovial, feet firmly on the ground,
and full of stories. They still live in an old middle-class suburb in Worli and the mother, in particular, is a vivid storyteller.
During his teenage years, Shreyas went through a lengthy patch of poor form and things came to a head once in the living room.
“You remember Santosh, he came and sat on that couch. He was about to cry,” Rohini said during a previous interaction with this newspaper at her home.
Santhosh then fills in more details: how he suggested to Shreyas to stop cricket as it was affecting him mentally.
“But he got angry and said, ‘Papa, how can you even say that?” Santhosh recalled. Santhosh brought in a sports psychologist Mugdha Bavare, who conducted sessions with the teenager to turn away the blues.
The living room wall is adorned with pictures of deities from Telengana’s Tirupati to Thiruchendur in Tamil Nadu. Rohini talked about the famous morning wake-up song for many Tamilians – MS Subbulakshmi’s Vishnu Sahasranama.
As we were chatting, a baby tortoise peeped out of a small basket and began to crawl. “The kids – Shreyas and his younger sister- bring all sorts of animals into the house; I have to end up taking care of it,” Rohini said.
A couple of weeks before the World Cup, one ran into Shreyas. That tortoise came up in the chat. “Ah, that died. No more. Most of the out-of-ordinary animals you must have seen are gone now,” says Shreyas, who has recently moved onto a bigger home and lives by himself.