Shreyas Iyer: ‘Leaving the ball would bore me’

Shreyas Iyer is going to play attacking cricket whatever the situation. The India batter returned to Ranji Trophy after a gap of five years to prepare for the five-match Test series against England starting next week, and warmed-up with a run-a-ball 48 in Mumbai’s 10-wicket win against Andhra at home.

Iyer batted at No. 5 in the only chance he got in the game, on the first day, and even though the Andhra quicks bowled “negative” to him by going around the wicket and pitching it short at times, he was not bothered. Iyer flicked the full deliveries, pulled the short ones and scored as many as 75% of his runs on the leg side and struck only one of his seven fours on the off side.

“I’m going to play attacking irrespective of the situation,” he said after Mumbai’s win. “And also when you bowl negative, when you bowl safe and defensive at the start, you want to score runs and you need to take your team through up to a certain point. So that was my mindset and that’s why stuck with. Yeah, I was happy [with my knock] irrespective of the score.

“[As] I said, they were bowling defensive and they didn’t let me play to my strengths. Even though they started with the short balls, I was able to execute them for boundaries and get a lot of runs out of it. Again, they were bowling negative so there was literally no scope to…other than leaving the ball I couldn’t have done much. I knew that leaving the ball would, to be honest, bore me. I would rather go and play some strokes. That’s what I considered at that point of time.”

Was he pleased with his shots against the short ball? “I’m happy,” Iyer said succinctly.

His strike rate of 101.27 in ODIs and 136.12 in T20Is speak to the way he likes to play, and it’s largely the same approach he has adopted in first-class matches too, by striking at 78.63 even though it reduces to 65.34 in Tests. Iyer could play a crucial role with his attacking game against the spinners if India and England play on turners in the upcoming Test series.

Even though it was not a turning track at the BKC Ground in Mumbai, Iyer was content with his progress, fielding for long hours in the heat (there’s no winter in Mumbai), especially after a recurring back injury that kept him out of action for large parts in 2023. He was back in India colours in September and played a key role in the run up to the final of the ODI World Cup.

“It wasn’t a turning track, to be honest, he said. “I’m assuming that we would be getting turning wickets against England. But other than that, it was just for my match fitness, to stay on the field as long as possible, that’s what mainly I was focusing on because especially after my injury it has been tough for me to stick on the outfield for long. So this was great practice for me.”

Iyer returned to domestic cricket because he was not picked for the ongoing home series against Afghanistan, India’s last T20 games before the World Cup in June. He isn’t worried about missing time with the national team. His focus is on what’s coming next.

“See, right now I’m being in the present,” he said of being dropped from the T20I side. “I’ve finished the match which I was asked to play, I came, and I executed, so I’m happy with what I’m doing. Something that is not in my control, I can’t be focusing on that. Coming here and winning the match was my focus and that’s what we did today.

“It’s important to take one match at a time, not think about five-match Test series. The team is only for the first two games. The motto would be to perform in the first two games and then look forward to the rest of the games.”

After scores of 0, 4*, 31 and 6 in the South Africa Tests where both matches finished in under three days, Iyer could be competing for a middle-order spot with KL Rahul if India pick a specialist wicketkeeper instead of Rahul because of the challenges of keeping to spinners on turning tracks.

“To be honest I just have to think about the three days,” he said in jest. “See, the last two Test matches we played in South Africa it finished in three days. The third day is always important so I just have to focus on the three days and fourth and fifth will follow if it has to.”

When asked about the competition for places in the Indian middle order, he said: “It’s fun. I love competition, and when competition is there, you face more challenges. And that’s what I thrive on personally. So I enjoy having competition around because then you can go at each other and also against the opponents to show your talent and skills.”

Iyer finished his day on the field by batting on the center BKC pitch for a couple of hours after the game with his coach Pravin Amre while the other players left the ground.

Iyer has so far played 12 Tests after a glittering start to his career with a century and half-century on debut against New Zealand in November 2021. He has since struck four more half-centuries, and averages 39.27 from 20 innings.

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