"If Shreyas was not the Player of the Series, I would have definitely shared this award with him, but he is, so I will take this home," R Ashwin
said in the post-match presentation after India's three-wicket win
, pointing to his Player-of-the-Match trophy.
Now either Ashwin had been informed and there was a last-second change or he was nudging the adjudicators to do the right thing because Shreyas Iyer
was the deserving Player of the Series. Ashwin himself was the top-scorer in a tense chase of 145 after he joined Iyer at 74 for 7, but Ashwin knew Iyer had played the better innings, one that calmed everyone down.
Iyer did come to bat after the 28th over, which means India were near the time when the ball would go soft and misbehave slowly than it did earlier, but still he offered false responses to only four of the 46 balls he faced. Nobody came close to that batting efficiency in the whole Test. Ashwin, batting with him, faltered 12 times in 62. Everything about the way Iyer batted was spot on: judging the length, playing either right forward or right back, always on the lookout for runs, but not taking outrageous risks.
It was not just on the outside. Captain KL Rahul
spoke of how the panic in the dressing room settled down once Iyer started batting. "When someone's performing consistently for you, it is very heartening, and Shreyas has been around the team for a long time and he had to really wait for his opportunities," Rahul said. "And so happy to see that when he has got the opportunities he is really grabbing them with both hands, and he is doing the job for the team.
"The way he batted today was phenomenal. He made it look really easy. There was a lot of pressure, there was a little bit of panic in the dressing room, but it didn't look like there was any panic when we were watching Shreyas bat. He had a really good partnership with Ashwin."
"He is someone who has been doing really well for 15 months to two years, but unfortunately he had the injury and he went away from the game for a little bit. He has been really patient through all of this. Obviously his journey has not been easy.."
It shouldn't really come as a surprise because Iyer has been showing how good he is against spin from the time he debuted last year
in Kanpur and rescued India from 106 for 3 and 51 for 5. He averages 68.67 against spin and 42.40 against pace. He has played just one match outside Asia, so we should reserve the verdict, but against spin in helpful conditions, he and Rishabh Pant have been India's best batters since his debut.
"He is someone who has been doing really well for 15 months to two years, but unfortunately he had the injury and he went away from the game for a little bit," Rahul said. "Then he had to wait his turn again. He has been really patient through all of this. Obviously his journey has not been easy, no one's journey has been easy in the team. The way he is batting is phenomenal, hope that he can continue to do this and keep getting better."
What Rahul said is also acknowledgment of the work Iyer had to do in domestic cricket to get his Test debut. He came into Test cricket with over 4000 runs at an average of over 50 and a strike rate of over 80. Since ESPNcricinfo has been keeping ball-by-ball records, no batter has managed that. And most of those runs came in Ranji Trophy where you have to face a lot of spin.
In a series that spin dominated, Iyer made false responses to only 24 balls out of the 244 balls he faced from spinners. In the three innings that Iyer played, his points of entry were 112 for 4, 94 for 4 and 71 for 6. It is in keeping with Iyer's career: only 54 false responses in 592 balls of spin.
A good visual measure of how well you are batting against spin is how often you get neither forward nor back, giving the ball chance to misbehave and not giving yourself any chance to recover if it does. Iyer hardly ever does that.
The next indicator is how a batter manages to score relatively risk-free runs off good balls. The one trait that has shone through Iyer's batting so far is the classic trick against spin, especially on pitches keeping low: look to be pressing forward, but be quick to pounce on anything marginally short of a length. Those two shots, one each in both innings, will resonate for long: on both occasions, right back to a slightly short ball and pulling a left-arm spinner over midwicket. In the second innings, that shot signalled end of panic.
Iyer might not have got the Player-of-the-Series award that Ashwin thought he would be, or should be, getting, but there can be no better tribute than that he calmed the panic down in the dressing room with his assured batting.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo