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Feature

From shoulder dislocation to sealing a Test spot, how Shreyas Iyer turned it around

After this home season, there remains little doubt that Iyer should start in the series decider in England

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
15-Mar-2022
Shreyas Iyer has been the Player of the Match in two of his first four Tests  •  Associated Press

Shreyas Iyer has been the Player of the Match in two of his first four Tests  •  Associated Press

A year ago, Shreyas Iyer cried inside the dressing room. Hours previously, he was the captain and main batter of Delhi Capitals, the runners-up of IPL 2020, and almost a lock in for India's limited-overs sides. In the eighth over of England's innings in Pune, though, he dived at cover, saved two runs and dislocated his shoulder.
He knew his IPL was done for. More importantly, the T20 World Cup was in doubt.
Capitals went on to name Rishabh Pant their full-time captain and retained him as the future of the franchise. Iyer missed the first half of the IPL, and the lack of game time because of the injury meant he was only a reserve for the T20 World Cup. These were the two biggest stages for him last year. Could the year get any worse?
Towards the end of the year, though, things turned. Pandemic, workloads, injuries and selections - everything conspired to open up a third stage. To call Test cricket a grand stage might be a stretch comparing it to the IPL and a World Cup, but for players, it still remains important to test themselves at the longest format.
When Iyer got that chance, he had played only one first-class match since the start of 2019. It is a testament to the variety of conditions and bowling you face in Indian first-class cricket that a dominator in domestic cricket found himself right at home in Test cricket, even if only at home so far.
Iyer came to Test cricket with a first-class average of 52.18 and a strike rate of 81.54. Whatever you say about the quality of attacks in domestic cricket, you don't do this over 4000 runs without the game for it. Iyer was - and is - the sole member of the club of batters with 4000 runs, an average of 50 and a strike rate of 80 in first-class cricket.
It perhaps points to the riches in Indian batting that till the break he got, thanks to many absences, Iyer was seen as a limited-overs international batter only. It is anyway a really tough time to be an India Test batter. They play only five of them, and invariably they get tougher pitches than other teams wherever they travel.
Add to it the change in home pitches, which have begun to turn more, and sooner than before. The churn in Test sides tends to be lower, which means new spots rarely open up.
In his first four Tests - Player of the Match in two of them - Iyer has shown the quality of his game against spin. He rarely gets caught on the crease; he is either meeting the ball at its pitch or right back to play it after it has turned. That is a quality ingrained in most good batters in India at a young age, but Iyer also has an attacking gear, which is rare.
He can often force spinners to drop short by showing them an early forward movement without committing to it. The trickier the surface, the handier that quality is. As was apparent against Sri Lanka in Bengaluru.
"Very, very impressed with his performance," captain Rohit Sharma said of Iyer. "Not easy to play on these kinds of pitches, especially when playing your fourth Test match. It is never easy. He showed a lot of composure. He understood what he exactly wanted to do on that pitch. It was very clear from the outside also that he has gone in with a plan.
"To have that kind of mindset for someone playing only his fourth Test shows a lot of maturity and a lot of understanding about his own game, which is a great sign for us moving forward. Batting at six in these conditions is never easy. The game is always in the balance. It can shift either way in that position. I thought he grabbed that opportunity with both hands and made it count."
In a season of transition, Iyer is the first one to have nailed down one of the spots vacated by Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. It is a shame that Iyer fell ill during the South Africa tour. It was a good time for us to know where the leadership saw Iyer when Virat Kohli missed the second Test with injury.
However, we don't know if they preferred Hanuma Vihari, thus suggesting Iyer was not the No. 1 pick in seaming conditions, or if Iyer missed out because of his illness.
But after this home season, there remains little doubt that Iyer should start in the series decider in England. As he prepares to lead Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL, if he looks back to the night he spent crying in the Pune dressing room last year, Iyer perhaps will not curse his luck now.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo