Proactive Shreyas sends timely warning to Rahane
With Virat Kohli set to return to the playing XI next game, there is every chance that Shreyas Iyer might find himself warming the bench in Mumbai. Should there be no injury to any of his teammates, the only possibility of Iyer continuing in the XI is if India revert back to a four-bowler strategy, something that is very, very unlikely, even if he scores a ton tomorrow.
But, though this could turn out to be his only Test in the immediate future, deep down Iyer will know that he has, with the knock today, mounted more pressure on Rahane, who has hogged the No.5 spot for the past six years.
At 106/3, Iyer walked in to bat at a pretty tricky situation which became worse soon after, with the skipper perishing. In the first 30 minutes, he had to negate a fired-up Jamieson who had his tail up, a metronomic Ajaz Patel who was accurate as ever, a determinant Somerville who was starting to find his groove and a wily Tim Southee who was making the old ball dance to his tunes.
Having not played any red-ball cricket for nearly 3 years, Iyer would have been forgiven had he failed, given it was the seniors who let the team down by not converting starts.
Yet, bent upon succeeding, the debutant hung in there when New Zealand threw everything they had at him. Eventually his persistence paid off as he headed back to the dressing room unbeaten, 25 shy of a maiden Test ton.
The most impressive part of Iyer’s knock today was the game awareness he showed. And it came in many forms.
First, as soon as he walked out to the wicket, he absorbed all the pressure that came his way realizing that the Kiwis had the momentum. His first 55 balls yielded just 17 runs. All he focused on was survival. He blocked nearly 55% of the balls he faced in the post-lunch session and hit just two boundaries.
Once he got his eye in, Iyer started going up the gears, sensing that New Zealand were starting to tire. After scoring just 24 off his first 60 balls, he doubled his score in the next 30 balls to assert his authority in the game. But even here, he did not swing his bat mindlessly with the intent to score quickly. He picked his target smartly.
Iyer targeted the Kiwis’ fifth bowler, debutant Rachin Ravindra, who had to chip-in with a few extra overs due to the injury to Southee. Of the 23 balls he faced of Ravindra, he took 22 runs, scoring at a strike rate of nearly 96. Against no other bowler did he even strike at more than 60.
And once he wrestled the momentum and ground the Kiwi bowlers down, Iyer went back to playing safe - while putting away the odd loose ball - in order to get through to stumps unscathed. New Zealand did not put up the greatest of showings with the ball, but Iyer’s knock today was an innings of a veteran played by a debutant.
With his 35 today, Rahane’s average across his last 24 Tests at home reads 30.87. Seeing how Iyer played today, particularly against spin, you wonder if the selectors will finally start seriously thinking about the prospect of demoting the stand-in skipper to being an away specialist. For India will be that much more formidable at home should they have a No.5 who can accumulate runs consistently.
Kyle Jamieson passes the toughest Test of his career, yet, with flying colours
As a fast bowler, the sub-continent is always seen as your litmus test. If you’re a newcomer, judgements are reserved until you prove to the world that you can be effective in Asia.
Which is why despite having picked 46 wickets in 8 matches at an average of 14, people pulled out the “we’ll see what he does in the sub-continent” card before terming Kyle Jamieson world-class.
Today Jamieson took a significant step in proving that his outrageous record has more to do with skill than luck or ‘favorable conditions’.
On a Kanpur wicket that looked like the ultimate counteragent for his threat, Jamieson toiled hard and found a way to do what he did in the first 8 Tests of his career: be the ultimate strike-bowler who provides a breakthrough every time the skipper throws him the ball.
The key to his success? Adapting.
In the first session, Jamieson treated the wicket as if it were a deck he’d get back home. With a tiny bit of movement on offer, the 6’7 giant focused on landing the ball on a good length and bowled 75% of the deliveries on the 6-8 meter mark, trying to force the batters into playing a false shot. Here, outswingers were his go-to ball.
Kyle Jamieson pitch-map in the first session
And the plan proved to be a success as Mayank Agarwal nicked off in his fourth over, to a delivery that was right in the corridor of uncertainty. First blood drawn.
Post-lunch, however, Jamieson did a 180 on his plan. With swing having completely disappeared, the tall right-armer shifted his focus to exploiting the variable bounce on the wicket. He did so by bowling short and bowling at the stumps.
From 11%, the number of short deliveries he bowled rose to 38%, and he also made the nip-backer his stock ball. In the first session, only 6 of the 36 balls he bowled (16%) came into the batters. This figure stood at 60% (30/50) in the second session.
And yet again he reaped benefits for the smart adjustment as both Gill and Rahane chopped-on off balls that came back into them. On both occasions, it was deviation and/or variable bounce off the wicket that resulted in the undoing of the batters.
Jamieson was gassed by the time he was thrown the ball in the 82nd over, but across his first 14 overs, the 26-year-old showed that he is ready to spearhead this New Zealand attack regardless of conditions.
Come Day 2, he will be key once again if the Kiwis are to stage a comeback.