Shreyas Iyer scored 724 runs in 2022, the most by any player from an ICC Full Member nation, while averaging 55.69 and striking at 92.
Topping the runs rankings is not normally associated with someone who bats outside the top three, but Iyer is no ordinary No.4: only AB de Villiers and Eoin Morgan have more runs at that position with a higher average and strike rate as of today.
Iyer could have been among the first to be named to India’s World Cup squad following the golden year of 2022. Then followed the lower-back injury, which forced him to miss the Ahmedabad Test against Australia, as well as the ODIs, IPL, and World Test Championship final.
Iyer didn’t even play for the West Indies. India possessed a top three capable of keeping even Shikhar Dhawan out in Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, and Virat Kohli. They were also planning on using two all-rounders at six and seven.
They needed to choose two batters for four and five, one of whom could keep wicket. In Iyer’s absence, KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant would have come in, but India was also missing them.
They turned to the most obvious answer, selecting Suryakumar Yadav – a T20I legend at that position – and sticking by him even when it didn’t work out.
“To be honest, this was our last chance to try out some of our players.” We have a couple guys who are injured and in the NCA. We are kind of running out of time in a lot of respects with a month until the Asia Cup,” India head coach Rahul Dravid revealed during the West Indies tour.
Fortunately for Dravid and India, 21st-century medical science ensured that Rahul and Iyer, as well as fast bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Prasidh Krishna, returned for the Asia Cup.
“I’m truly grateful to be where I am right now because I never expected to recover so quickly,” Iyer told ESPNcricinfo.
Bumrah and Prasidh had already shown in Ireland that they were match-fit, at least for Twenty20 cricket. Rahul and Iyer, on the other hand, prepared for the Asia Cup through match simulation and minor match practice. Rahul wasn’t even physically fit.
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Iyer walked out to bat in his comeback match after India lost Rohit and Kohli within seven overs. Shaheen Shah Afridi had started the day off on the wrong foot, but a rain delay had helped him to recover his stride.
On the opposite end, Iyer got two twos off Haris Rauf and then drove him for two fours. Rauf attempted a bouncer in his following over, but Iyer saw it early, moved to the back foot, and middled the draw… only to find the only fielder in the area of the shot.
Iyer did not bat against Nepal, and back spasms forced him to miss the remainder of the Asia Cup. Rahul’s form and fitness, India’s other issue, were resolved, as he scored a rousing century in the Super Fours match against Pakistan and maintained wicket without incident.
Iyer’s form was one of the concerns for India when the series against Australia began. The team’s management evidently thought he was fit enough to play, but was he still as good as he used to be?
Would he still beat out Ishan Kishan, who, unlike Iyer, is a left-hander who can keep wicket, open and bat in the middle order, and did not blow his chance against Pakistan?
The first ODI was as custom-made for him as they get. In Rohit and Kohli’s absence, he was scheduled to bat at No.3 and came out at 142-1: India needed 140 in 172 balls at the time. He was run out after two overs due to a miscommunication with Gill.
Iyer’s post-recovery phase revealed little about his form: three ODIs, two innings, and two unfortunate dismissals. He hadn’t struggled (in fact, he appeared fluent), but he hadn’t spent much time at the crease either. With a 49-ball 50, ‘SKY’ joined Kishan to add to the pool of No.4 options.
Then, in the second ODI, Iyer came out in the fourth over, started with six fours off the first 16 balls, and went on to hit five more strokes to the ropes and three over it.
He stroke for stroke equaled the in-form Gill and defeated him to the hundred. The questions about India’s No.4 had been answered by the time he fell for a 90-ball 105.
Surya’s undefeated 37-ball 72 and Kishan’s 31-ball 31 bolstered their credentials, but they were essentially stand-ins for Iyer for much of 2023.
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“We have to try out other people and give other people some chances,” Dravid said, “so that in the worst-case scenario, at least they have game time behind them.”
Unless one of them fails, Iyer and Rahul’s returns have secured India’s top five spot. Kishan and Yadav, while being excellent strokeplayers, will most likely have to wait for their opportunities.