How many more chances will Shreyas Iyer get in Tests before he’s finally let go? | Cricket

On Monday in Visakhapatnam, Shreyas Iyer provided a classic example of making one’s own luck. Out of nowhere, he conjured a piece of fielding brilliance that broke the second Test against England wide open. Ben Stokes was the last realistic obstacle between India and a series-levelling victory. The England skipper had yet to hit his straps, the potential for damage nestling within that power-packed frame wouldn’t have been lost on anyone.

India's Shreyas Iyer(AFP)
India’s Shreyas Iyer(AFP)

Stokes is a livewire on the field, a compelling, athletic figure. But here, he was slightly dopey, setting off on a gentle jog when greater urgency was the need of the hour. Sensing a half-chance, Iyer raced to his right from mid-wicket and fired a throw on the run to clatter the stumps at the striker’s end and catch the talismanic Stokes short of his ground. England 220 for seven chasing 399, pretty much game, set and match India.

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It was Iyer’s second significant contribution in the field. In the first innings, he had taken a stunning catch, running backwards from point, to eject the dangerous Zak Crawley, in full flow during a blazing 76. With those two pieces of magic alone, Iyer had pulled his weight in the second Test. Almost.

Shreyas Iyer the batter needs to pull up his socks

Iyer’s primary role in the side, however, is as a specialist batter. It is there that he is required the most to pull his weight. And he will – or at least should – be the first to admit that he hasn’t done so in the five-day game for a while now.

Since scoring 87 and 29 not out in a tense but successful run-chase against Bangladesh in Chattogram in December 2022, the 29-year-old Mumbaikar has gone spectacularly off the boil. Either side of back surgery in the middle of last year, he has a highest of 37 in 12 innings; four single-digit scores have been counterbalanced by five efforts between 26 and 37. Either he has perished early, which can happen to the best, or he hasn’t converted numerous starts, which is particularly unacceptable. How long a rope do India give Iyer? Do they persist with him, hoping that he will turn the corner, or do they shake up things and allow someone else to showcase their wares? Rajat Patidar wasn’t too shabby on debut in Visakhapatnam, maybe it’s time the prolific Sarfaraz Khan got a go at the expense of his fellow Mumbaikar.

Rohit Sharma, himself in need of a big score, and Rahul Dravid have stressed the need for constancy, for giving young batters the time required to find their feet in Test cricket. That’s a laudable philosophy, but does Iyer fall in the ‘young batters’ category? He is in his 10th year as a first-class player, with 70 matches and more than 5,500 runs under his belt; apart from 14 Tests, he has 110 international appearances in the white-ball formats. On Test debut against New Zealand in November 2021, he announced himself with 105 and 65. In his first 11 Test innings, he racked up one hundred and five fifties. Surely, having made such a stirring beginning, he should be doing more now, especially with Virat Kohli and KL Rahul and Ravindra Jadeja all on the sidelines?

It’s because Kohli made himself unavailable at the start of the Test series that the team management was spared the unpleasant task in Hyderabad of picking between Iyer and Shubman Gill, who shook off a lean patch with a fluent second-innings hundred in Visakhapatnam. Iyer didn’t latch on to the lifeline. Some of his shot-selection has been questionable, not least in the second innings of the second Test when, after again getting his eye in, he attempted a big aerial drive without getting to the pitch of the ball, was defeated by the turn and ended up skying the ball for Stokes to run back from mid-off and snaffle the most astonishing of catches.

Dravid might well have been alluding to Iyer when he spoke about finding the balance between being positive and selection. “For me, it’s about understanding if we are making the right decisions – to put them under pressure or recognising that this is the moment to soak in the pressure and maybe be a little more conservative rather than attack,” the head coach remarked. The former skipper will pointblank deny that Iyer was the reference point, but he could so easily be, right?

There is no clarity on the status of Kohli and Rahul for the Rajkot Test, starting on February 15. Iyer might therefore get another go. Maybe then, he will make his own luck with the bat too. For his own sake, if nothing else.

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