Iyer takes short-ball challenge head on | Cricket

In being a team sport, batting can become a lonely pursuit when things are not going to plan. While being out of runs is the obvious fallout, the root cause may be technical, mental, or both. In the case of Shreyas Iyer, his two successive dismissals to short balls — against Trent Boult and Chris Woakes — have made it obvious that the flaw has resurfaced.

Shreyas Iyer during a practice session (PTI)
Shreyas Iyer during a practice session (PTI)

Iyer’s two-hour batting stint at the Wankhede stadium on Tuesday, two days ahead of the Sri Lanka match, was all about getting his bearings back.

He kick-started the training session, facing the net bowlers for half an hour. Then, he went to the outermost batting net and asked the left-arm throwdown specialist Nuwan Seneviratne — also a simulator to face Dilshan Madushanka — to bowl some friendly short balls to him. For 15 minutes, all Iyer did was pull in front of square and deposit the ball into the Vijay Merchant Pavilion. An unfettered hitting session, perfecting the bat swing at familiar climes of the Wankhede was perhaps to clear the mental cobwebs.

KL Rahul had given a peek into his mind ahead of India’s last game in Lucknow, of how the environment you are playing in can influence one’s thinking. “I told my trainer that my heart is racing, because the last time I was here, I had not such a great experience (injury),” he had said.

His batting juices flowing, Iyer went away to the change room, returned wearing his chest guard and faced some real stuff from the three side-armers. Rahul Dravid would soon join the throwdown group, but there were hardly any discussions. Iyer was left to train the way he wanted. He was the first one to hit the nets on the optional practice day, and the last to leave.

But the runs must come. Else, when Hardik Pandya returns, Iyer would become the first casualty from the playing eleven. Not because he’s woefully out of form. His unbeaten fifty against Pakistan came only three matches ago. His hundred against Australia at Indore came only last month. But the word is now out that Iyer is a compulsive hooker and not doing a very good job of it.

“It’s often mental than technical,” said Graeme Smith, former South African captain.

A point of view shared by Misbah-ul-Haq, former Pakistan captain. “He is expecting the short ball and many times, even against short-of-length balls which aren’t ideal for pulling, like the one against England, he goes for the shot. So, you are overthinking about the short ball and you are in trouble,” he told A Sports.

Despite Iyer’s shortcomings, India can keep the faith, being comfortably placed on the points table. Besides, winning teams avoid making changes in big tournaments, unless there is a tactical need. Also, Sri Lanka doesn’t possess the tools to push the batter on the back foot with pace; only Dushmantha Chameera can bowl 140-plus.

Iyer has other qualities. He plays spin expertly and can push the scoring rate up at No 4.

“It’s certainly easier to come out of it in white-ball cricket than Test cricket, where you can be tested non-stop with aggressive fast bowling. In ODIs and T20s, the pitches are slightly better and slower. So, you have got more chance,” said Smith. “The challenge is that you can’t always duck, which makes it a dot ball. The moment it is short, you just have to score.”

In T20s, Iyer backs away to target the third-man boundary. Here, there is a greater premium on the wicket.

The body blows that Steve Waugh would take has limited scope in a high-scoring white-ball tournament. But there were others like Sourav Ganguly, who made technical adjustments to cut and pull better.

“In the past, I used to play standing in the crease when the ball was delivered, now I move in a little early. It helps to play genuine pace a little better. It’s also a lot about what you are thinking. Very often you are thinking the wrong thing because you are trying too hard,” Ganguly told ESPNCricinfo about the work he did with Greg Chappell in 2003.

But perhaps Iyer would like to follow the Ganguly example too. Sometimes, it takes just one shot.

“It’s funny. Often you walk into a game, you get a short ball, you play a good stroke, and everything settles down. That’s exactly what Shreyas would be hoping to do,” said Smith.

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