Indian head coach Rahul Dravid has confirmed that returning Shreyas Iyer will “walk straight into the side” if he is match-ready for the second Test against Australia in Delhi, which starts on Friday (February 17). The right-hander has recovered from his back injury and joined the Indian set-up after missing the first Test.
The middle-order batter from Mumbai, who hasn’t played any competitive cricket since January 15, was ruled out of the ODI series against New Zealand due to a back injury and was asked to head to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) for further assessment.
In his absence, Suryakumar Yadav made his Test debut in Nagpur and took the No. 5 spot. However, the top-ranked T20I batter could only manage eight runs before getting knocked over by Nathan Lyon. If fit, Iyer will replace SKY in the second Test.
"I'm glad that he's back and he's fit. We'll take a call after a couple of days of training. He's had a long session today, he's done some training today. We'll assess it tomorrow as well once he comes in for a light hit, and see how he feels in the evening. But certainly, if he's fit and ready to go, and ready to take the load of a five-day Test match, then without doubt his performance means he'll walk straight into the side," said Dravid at the press conference on Wednesday (February 15).
"Without it being written in stone and without it being a rule, certainly we value the contributions of people who've been there and if they've missed out due to injury then they really deserve the right to be able to come back in. If they have performed, irrespective of what has happened in the time they have been injured...it's something that I can't answer for everyone but that's certainly the outlook of the team management.
"So it'll be nice to have him back and he's certainly been one of our better players, so he deserves it. And I think people in the team understand that as well, they know that if they are replacing someone injured and if that person comes back, and he will probably come back, then the same thing will be followed for them as well. If they get injured then hopefully we'll be able to give them the same treatment as well."
Iyer has only featured in seven Tests but has slammed 624 runs at an impressive average of 56.73, studded with one century and five fifties. Most of his runs have come under crunch situations and he is also someone who is excellent against spin.
"Shreyas has played well against spin but what's really stood out has been his temperament,. We've been in quite a few pressure situations with Shreyas around. Right from the first Test match, his debut game in Kanpur, in the last year and a half and every time we've been in some tough situations, he, Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja really have been the ones who have been bailing us out and playing those critical knocks. His temperament in Bangladesh when we were under pressure, along with R Ashwin, so I think that's something that is a really good sign.
"Obviously along with his skill of playing spin very well - he's spent a lot of time in domestic cricket before getting in, so he obviously understands, he knows how to get runs - but I think at this level also what really counts is your ability to deal with those pressure situations, the temperament, the ability to find solutions and find answers when you're under pressure, and I think from the little small sample size that we have, he's been very, very good at that."
The head coach also heaped heavy praise on Cheteshwar Pujara who is set to become the 13th Indian to feature in 100 Tests. Pujara, who made his Test debut in October 2010, has amassed 7021 runs so far at an average of 44.15, studded with 19 centuries and 34 fifties.
It will be a special day for Pujara and who better than Dravid to talk about his resilience and longevity? “It is a big achievement for any player. Yes, you need talent but you need lot of other things. It’s a reflection of your longevity and many other things. Your fitness, your resilience, ability to handle success and failure.
“When you play 100 games, it’s not possible that you haven’t seen ups and downs. You need to clear obstacles and bear the pain when you are down and play different kinds of bowling, various questions are asked on and off the field. To play 100 Tests, you need minimum 10 years and he has played for 13-14 years. It is a tribute to his skill which is there but so many other things are also there.
“He is a very popular player. We are all so happy that he has got this opportunity to pay 100 Tests and he will do well in future also not just this game. In the last 10 years, Cheteshwar Pujara has played some very important knocks for the country which has won us matches and series. We are happy to celebrate this moment with him.”
Australia were no match to India in the first Test, which the hosts won by an innings and 132 runs. And, the platform was set perfectly by the bowling unit when they dismissed Australia for just 177 in the first innings. Once that happened, Rohit Sharma, Jadeja and Axar Patel batted Pat Cummins and his men out of the contest.
“All round, that Test match was a really good Test match for us. Rohit scoring a hundred and playing the way he did was absolutely brilliant. That really set the platform for Jadeja and Axar to really sort of seal that game for us. But all through, just to be able to restrict Australia to 177 after we lost the toss and they got the opportunity to bat first was I think a big credit to the bowlers.
“Sometimes in the third and fourth innings, things can happen quite quickly in India. But it’s a lot of hard work to get to that point. Sometimes you have to play really hard and play tough cricket. That’s what we really did till that point. Even in the first innings, we didn’t concede a lot of runs and kept the pressure on. When we got the wickets, the spinners were very well able to squeeze them."
Talking about Rohit, who scored a century, Dravid said: “With the batting, we showed discipline, but were kept under pressure at 160/5. But Rohit was the glue who held whole innings together, which is what you need in games like this. You need that one batsman who can cash in and make a big one. Probably, that was the difference, like we had the batters who went really deep and got that hundred for us."
One of the biggest reasons why India have been invincible at home is because of their lower-order batting. Jadeja, Ashwin and Axar at 7, 8 and 9 respectively are as dangerous and solid as they come. Australia managed to reduce India to 240/7 but that’s when Jadeja and Axar joined hands and put on 88 runs for the eighth wicket, with both batters scoring fifties.
“I thought we prepared really well for this particular Test match. We were very lucky to get a week in Nagpur before the Test series started, which was a very good week for us. We had five sessions, which were of very good quality and had a lot of specific work. All boys felt that they came into the series and the match with very good prep and had volumes behind them with both bat and ball, which certainly helps.
“In slightly different conditions, you need to play slightly differently. On wickets like that, you need to have the balance between defence and putting the pressure back on the bowler. If you can’t put the pressure back on the bowler, you can’t really break in and then lose two-three quick wickets. Having that quality makes a really big difference and which is exactly what Rohit did.
“He attacked and then soaked in the pressure for some time. But whenever a chance came, Rohit was able to put the pressure back on the bowler, which I think Axar and Jadeja did really well in that partnership. So, it’s a balance and one can’t say that I will bat in that way, as one has to recognise that putting pressure back on the bowlers is quite an important skill.”