With 526 runs in 10 matches @ 75.14, a tally which includes two hundreds and three fifties, Iyer is the second highest-run getter for India.However, in terms of impact, with a strike rate of 113.11, he – along with skipperRohit Sharma – has been instrumental in taking bowlers, particularly the spinners, to the cleaners in the middle and end overs.
Breaking: India enter World Cup 2023 final, beat New Zealand by 70 runs
If Rohit has got India off to flying starts, Iyer has ensured that they don’t take the foot off the accelerator till the end. And to imagine this World Cup began on a disastrous note for the 28-year-old!
Walking in with India at a precarious 2/2 in the second over while chasing 200 in their opening game against Australia, the 28-year-old became the third Indian batsman to be out for a duck. Iyer’s casual shot reduced India to 2/3 and gave his critics ample ammunition. While he bounced back with 25* vs Afghanistan in Delhi and 53* vs Pakistan in Ahmedabad, the voices grew louder after he managed scores of 19 (vs Bangladesh), 33 (vs New Zealand) & 4 (vs England). The last two dismissals came against the short ball, a delivery which has had Iyer in all sorts of trouble at this level.
When he boarded the plane to Mumbai for India’s next game against Sri Lanka, Iyer was tense, even though the team management was backing him to the hilt. Another failure and the outside noise would amplify. He then got a call from someone who has worked on his batting since the Mumbaikar was 12. It was his childhood coach Pravin Amre, who had trained him since he was a kid at Shivaji Park, and then coached him when he played for Mumbai and then Delhi Daredevils (now Delhi Capitals).
“I told him that I wanted to meet him. His critics were panning him, saying ‘he can’t play the short ball.’ I knew he needed me at that stage, just like Ajinkya Rahane (another of Amre’s ‘boys’) needed me after he had a miserable Test debut in 2013,” Amre told TOI. “So, I went to the Wankhede Stadium, told him to finish off his practice and meet me.
What did Amre tell him? “Going into that match, Shreyas had got out pulling the short ball twice in a row. Most people were saying ‘He can’t play the short ball.’ If you keyed his name in google search, the words ‘short ball’ would automatically pop up. And even though the team was backing him fully, it was beginning to affect him.
“I wanted to give him moral support. I didn’t want him to have doubts about himself. So, I told him, ‘You know how to play the short ball. Don’t worry about it. It was just an error in judgment and execution. It wasn’t a technical error.’ I could say this with confidence because I had worked for a month on his technique, specifically his back-lift against the short ball, when he was out of the game due to a shoulder injury in 2021. That time he was with DC (Amre is the assistant coach of the franchise), and it was easy to work with him,” Amre said.
To boost Iyer’s confidence, Amre illustrated his own case – a hundred on Test debut against a fiery South African pace attack in 1992. “I told him, ‘Let people say anything, you do your job. Even if you get out only 10 times to the short ball in 10 years, they will say you can’t play the short ball.
“I gave him my example. People would say that I can’t play fast bowling at all, that could only play spin. And I scored a hundred in Durban on my Test debut, on the fastest pitch in the world, against a world-class South African pace attack which had Allan Donald and Brett Schultz.”
Amre’s ‘pep talk’ did work for Iyer, who smashed 82 off 56 balls against Lanka the following day, followed by 77 off 87 balls against South Africa in Kolkata, 128* off 94 balls versus the Netherlands and then a 70-ball 105 against New Zealand in the semifinal.
“He was in survival mode. He knew ‘gale mein talvar hai.’He knew that his neck was on the chopping block. In case he failed again, for how long would the team have backed him? If Hardik Pandya had returned to the team after becoming fit, Shreyas would’ve lost his place in the side. I told him: ‘Destiny is with you'”.
A key feature in Iyer’s batting in this World Cup has been his ability to tonk big sixes, especially off the spinners. In the final against Australia, India will bank on blade to take down spinners Adam Zampa and Glenn Maxwell. “Batsmen sometimes struggle to score runs in the middle overs, but he’s tonking the spinners for sixes, which reduces the pressure on his partner at the other end. Success doesn’t come by accident. We (he and Iyer) have trained for it at the Shivaji Park and the MCA’s ground in BKC. I told him to give him a goal to go for a 110-yard hit. That 106-yard six of his is a result of that practice,” said Amre.
In the last three years, injuries to his shoulder and back – both of which needed surgeries and considerable time off the game – have caused immense frustration to Iyer. “When he was forced to sit out due to that shoulder injury, it was a tough, painful period for him.
“The only blessing in disguise was that I got time to work on his game. It was so important to be with him, give him that moral support. You know that six months is a long time to be out of the Indian team, and you are in danger of losing your place in the side,” says Amre.
This World Cup has shown us that Iyer could be India’s No. 4 for the next few years in ODIs.