After a long wait and a lot of runs, Shreyas Iyer has finally made it to the Indian Test team for the upcoming series against New Zealand. His inclusion points to the fact that the selectors and the management are looking to add further depth in the middle-order. With the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane unable to maintain the level of consistency expected from them and with Hanuma Vihari being out more than in, it certainly does not hurt India to look for other options, who could occupy a place in the middle-order in the near future.
After all, it certainly did not hurt in Australia when India’s depth especially in the bowling department unearthed new stars.
This is not Shreyas’ first tryst in the Indian Test side. Back in 2017, he was called-up as a cover for Virat Kohli ahead of the Dharamsala Test against Australia, but stand-in skipper Rahane had instead opted to hand a Test debut to Kuldeep Yadav.
Shreyas' wait could have been further extended, given India’s combination of going in with at least two spinners in home conditions, but with KL Rahul now being ruled out with an injury and the option of Shubman Gill being slotted into the middle-order being next to zero, there’s little doubt that Shreyas is exactly where he belongs.
Having closely worked with Rahul Dravid during his India A days and also while with Delhi Capitals, Shreyas’ good rapport with the India coach could be a crucial factor in shaping the next chapter in his career.
Stunning debut seasons
A protégé of Pravin Amre, Shreyas refers to him as a doctor who can diagnose any problems. Amre played a pivotal role in getting Shreyas to Delhi Capitals in 2015 for a whooping INR 2.6 crore at the back of impressive performances on the domestic circuit.
In a campaign where everything that could go wrong for Mumbai, Shreyas, 20, stepped up to the plate in what was perhaps one of the few positives for them in the 2014-15 Ranji Trophy season.
He amassed 809 runs at 50.56, which included two hundreds and six fifties from 17 innings. Things only got better for Shreyas from there on. He not only just teamed up with Amre at Delhi in the IPL but also came in close contact with Dravid – first in the IPL then with India A - who had taken up on himself to groom the future generation of Indian players.
Another grand debut season followed, this time in the IPL in 2015, where his fearless approach was appreciated from all circles. He smashed 439 runs at a strike-rate of 128.36 that season, earning him the emerging player of the season accolade.
Shreyas made all the right noises in his first full season at Mumbai, scoring 1,321 runs, which was the most in a single Ranji Trophy season after VVS Laxman’s 1,415 for Hyderabad in 1999-2000. That alone should have been enough for Shreyas to get a call-up in the Indian side, which the Indian batter believed should have been the case.
“I think they should get me now into the team, but it is not my job to think about it. My aim is to keep performing well, keep doing my job; let the selectors do their jobs. I will let the bat do the talking rather than me speaking about this topic,” a confident Shreyas told Cricket Country after a prolific season.
He continued to pile on the runs for Mumbai and also in the few matches for India A, which included an unbeaten double hundred against Australia A in Bangalore against a bowling attack that consisted of Jackson Bird, Nathan Lyon, Steve O’Keefe among others.
That was perhaps the innings that sealed Shreyas’ fate and with Kohli injured, Shreyas was flown to Dharamsala as cover.
Since Shreyas’ debut in 2014, no Indian cricketer had scored more runs than him at the First-Class level, which included 2,855 runs in the Ranji Trophy at 55.98, doing so with eight hundreds and 15 fifties from 53 innings.
He has not come close to a Test call-up since, more so, considering he has not played red-ball cricket since February 2019.
Ticking all boxes in limited-overs
While Shreyas may not have played in whites for India, he has been sublime in blue, when it comes to his performances in white-ball cricket.
He was forced to miss the first-half of the IPL 2021 due to an injury in the home series against England, but recovered well enough not just to play in the second half of the tournament, and also found a place in India’s reserves for the T20 World Cup, with the likes of Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan preferred over him.
Perhaps a good show against England, followed by consistent performances in the IPL could have seen him pip one of them into the main squad and deservedly so.
From his T20I debut in 2017 till the start of the World Cup, Shreyas has been among the consistent Indian batsmen in the middle-order (4-7) with 439 runs at a strike rate in excess of 140. Only Kohli (493) and Manish Pandey (552) have scored more runs than him. He could be groomed into an excellent finisher, which is something India have been craving for especially with Hardik Pandya not firing of late.
It’s a similar case in the ODIs as well as Shreyas in positions 4-7 has scored 651 runs at 40.60 with a strike rate a little over 100.
While there may be competition for his spot, the fact that he has been in the Indian set-up for over four years should give him the edge, given that there are two more World Cups coming up in the next two years.
Does he warrant a Test selection?
Why not? Shreyas has done exceedingly well in limited-overs and given his record in first-class cricket, he has the talent to take to Test cricket like fish to water.
With the Indian middle-order slowly starting to show some cracks, the 26-year-old could give it a new lease of life. Indian cricket in the past have had players despite their talent and scoring runs in abundance in first-class cricket have not been able to break into the line-up as it was stocked with players who were a cut above the rest.
One would hope that the Mumbai batsman does not go down a similar path and he gets his due. The Tests against New Zealand could be a perfect opportunity for India to test the waters.
Moreover, the contribution of the Indian batting line-up from 3-7 has gone down drastically at least since 2020. With Kohli and Pujara not having scored a century since 2019 and Rahane’s indifferent form have all been contributing factors.
In Tests between 2016 and 2019, India were at their dominant best having won 30 out of their 45 matches (W/L 3.750) played in this period, which includes wins in the West Indies, South Africa and also Australia.
The main reason for that being that the batters from 3-7 in this period averaged 47.2, with a ball per dismissal ratio of 88 – which was the best among all teams this period.
Since 2020, India find themselves in the bottom half on both these parameters with an average of 28 and have lost a wicket once every 66 deliveries.
It is clear that Team India need some fresh faces to mix things up in the middle-order. The fact that the players have been in a bubble for most parts of the last two years doesn’t help either, further making a case for India to bring in someone with a past record of scoring big on the domestic circuit.
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