Painkiller injections, 60-ball per session, playing through pain: Has Shreyas Iyer been treated unfairly?

Shreyas Iyer for India
Shreyas Iyer for India (Source: X)

The Shreyas Iyer apologists were out in full force on social media after the middle-order batsman was dropped from the list of centrally contracted players. The common refrain was that the BCCI has done ‘injustice’ to a player who scored in excess of 500 runs (530) at the 50-over World Cup, including a match-winning hundred in the semi-final against New Zealand, only a few months ago.

The BCCI has dropped Iyer, along with wicketkeeper-batter Ishan Kishan, from the list of centrally contracted players for ostensibly not adhering to cricket board secretary, Jay Shah’s directive of playing red-ball domestic cricket. The common perception is that Iyer’s show of arrogance didn’t serve him well. But there are two sides to every story and those who are close to the player feel that the 29-year-old has been treated unfairly.

The chain of events was like this: After the second Test against England, Iyer informed the team management about a persistent back pain that was impeding him from spending a long time at the crease. Then, he was dropped for the last three Tests and was asked to go and play the Ranji Trophy. It is learnt that Iyer called Mumbai chief selector Raju Kulkarni, telling him that his back trouble would force him to opt out of the Ranji Trophy quarter-final against Baroda. He didn’t report to the National Cricket Academy and an email from Nitin Patel, the head of sports science and medicine at the NCA, declared him fit.

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Shreyas Iyer in action vs England in Vizag
Shreyas Iyer in action vs England in Vizag (Image: Debasis Sen)

According to sources, despite pulling out of Mumbai’s Ranji quarter-final citing back trouble, Iyer turned up at Kolkata Knight Riders Academy in Mumbai and did training under some KKR coaches. When Ajit Agarkar, the chairman of the national selection committee, came to know about this, he was furious. Agarkar was in charge of finalising the central contracts and Iyer was duly dropped from the list.

Asked about this, an insider admitted that Iyer dropped in at the KKR Academy, as he had to build his workload. “After playing 60 balls in a session, his back was building spasms. He had to build up his resistance. Now he is playing 200 balls per session. In three weeks, he has put on three kilos of muscles. The Mumbai Cricket Association and the Mumbai team head coach (Omkar Salvi) have been kept in the loop. In fact, the Mumbai coach visited the KKR Academy several times to monitor Iyer’s progress. And now he has made himself available for the Ranji Trophy semi-final against Tamil Nadu,” the person told RevSportz, demanding anonymity.

Iyer had opted to skip the last year’s IPL to undergo a surgery for his recurring back injury. The source spoke about how keen the player was to feature in the World Cup. “He skipped the IPL to play the World Cup. Even after the surgery, he took three painkiller injections to be pain-free for the World Cup. And yet, the pain returned during the semi-final and the final, and he played through it. Iyer was the only player who wasn’t given a break after the World Cup. He played the home T20I series against Australia and then went to South Africa. After returning from South Africa, he was asked to play a Ranji game in January, ahead of the first two Tests against England. He did that. Doesn’t a player have the liberty to train under a coach of his choice?”

People in the know stressed that too much shouldn’t be read into Iyer’s decision of not reporting at the NCA. “KL Rahul, too, went to London for the treatment of his quadriceps pain. Nobody has asked a question. And when was the last time Rahul turned up for a Ranji game? He is also an injury-prone cricketer who has missed series and matches. A player is the best judge in terms of assessing his body,” said the source.

Shreyas Iyer will be playing Ranji Tophy semis.
Shreyas Iyer will be playing Ranji Trophy semis. Source (X)

To put things in perspective, Rahul last played a Ranji game four years ago, against Bengal at Eden Gardens. He was placed in Grade A. Hardik Pandya, too, has been given a Grade A contract despite playing just four white-ball internationals since October 1, 2023. The all-rounder has just returned to competitive cricket after a long injury lay-off, at the DY Patil T20 Cup.

Last month, the BCCI issued a directive that every contracted player should play the domestic red-ball tournament unless he was with the Indian team or doing his rehab at the NCA. Unlike Kishan, Iyer has played in the Ranji Trophy, and taking that into account, he was a little unfortunate not to get a contract. Apparently, he has fallen prey to miscommunication. But the way the whole thing stands, even a very successful IPL might not guarantee him a place in the Indian team for the upcoming T20 World Cup.

Where does his international career go from here? Ravi Shastri has offered some words of wisdom. “In the game of cricket, comebacks define the spirit. Chin-up, @ShreyasIyer15 and @ishankishan51! Dig deep, face challenges, and come back even stronger. Your past achievements speak volumes, and I have no doubt you’ll conquer once again,” the former India head coach posted on X.

Iyer’s redemption should start from the game against Tamil Nadu, and nothing better than letting the bat do the talking.

Also Read: Pullela Gopichand and Building a Legacy

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