Shreyas Iyer needs to ‘back’ himself despite the niggle and deliver for KKR

Shreyas Iyer for KKR
Shreyas Iyer for KKR (PC: Debasis Sen)

What is the first image that you visualise while assessing Shreyas Iyer and his batting? Perhaps, it is that daring upper cut he played against Pat Cummins in an ODI in Bengaluru in 2020. Iyer had sort of got into line against a short ball, before suddenly backing away to crack the stroke. He did all of it in a fraction of a second. Make no mistake, it was a jaw-dropping stroke but that is where the crux of Iyer’s problem lies.

Iyer tends to stay leg-side of the ball, so pace bowlers are bound to pitch the short delivery at him. Over a period of time, that has become a bane for Shreyas Iyer. Be it in the IPL or international cricket, the usual tactic employed against him is the short delivery. Iyer has looked to rectify it by going back and across but question marks remain.

Then, there is something else that has bothered the batter — back problems. Last year, during the Test series versus Australia, he had complained of back pain and subsequently underwent surgery.

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Shreyas Iyer during a Practice match
Shreyas Iyer during a Practice match (PC: Debasis Sen)

He returned for the 2023 Asia Cup. But back problems recur. In the last few months, Iyer wasn’t just laid low by poor form against South Africa and England, but the back issues resurfaced.

Worse was to follow. He was dropped from the Test side and also lost his central contract. The narrative goes that despite BCCI’s strict instructions that the Indian cricketers should take part in the Ranji Trophy, the premier domestic competition, he had missed the quarterfinal.

However, the Iyer side of the story is he missed the game because of his recurring back injury. Iyer being troubled by the same problem in the just-concluded Ranji Trophy final versus Vidarbha gives more credence to the narrative. By the looks of it, the lack of communication from the NCA has cost Iyer.

Presently, all eyes would be focused on whether Iyer can play the entire duration of the IPL and also make an impact ahead of the ICC T20 World Cup. He was passed fit for the tournament after consulting a “spine doctor.” Although it was indicated to him that he needs to be careful while pressing forward. For starters, Iyer has a back-foot trigger. And with the doctor advicing him to be cautious about lunging forward, it compounds Iyer’s problems. In a nutshell, the pace bowlers would eye bowling a fuller length, alongside the short ball.

Shreyas Iyer streching in KKR practice session
Shreyas Iyer streching in KKR practice session (PC: Debasis Sen)

So, in such a scenario, how can Iyer go about his business in IPL 2024? From Iyer’s point of view, he has to find a way to play with pain. He can take inspiration from athletes in other sports. For most of the 1996 season, Steffi Graf, the tennis legend, had competed in tournaments with a knee injury. Remarkably, she claimed three Majors that year. Rafael Nadal has also carved out a successful path despite suffering from numerous injuries.

Iyer also has to back himself to take the aggressive route. The middle-order bat is at his best when he plays with a touch of adventure.

There are problems galore for Iyer. But there is also a window of opportunity for Iyer to lead from the front by scoring plenty of runs. Iyer’s litmus test will begin in a few days’ time when Kolkata Knight Riders will take on Sunrisers Hyderabad on March 23.

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