Shreyas Iyer makes the long wait worth it

Shreyas Iyer makes the long wait worth it

The team broke into a collective cheer and even coach Rahul Dravid showed more emotion than the man they were all cheering for

In the smog-laden haze of Kanpur, Shreyas Iyer stood still, listening intently, as the Test cap was being handed to him on Thursday, minutes before the start of the opening Test between India and New Zealand in Kanpur.

Sunil Gavaskar was the man at the other end of the cap, Iyer’s senior in Mumbai cricket by decades and perhaps the greatest Indian batter of an earlier generation. No pressure. 

Iyer looked on, solitary diamond stud gleaming in the sun, unfazed. At last, cap in his hands, he broke into a barely-smile, kissed the cap, pried it open and swished it onto his head. All as if it was meant to be. 

Also Read | On his debut, Shreyas Iyer shows the way as India score 258/4 against New Zealand

The team broke into a collective cheer and even coach Rahul Dravid showed more emotion than the man they were all cheering for. Hugs and hi-fives all came in a hurry, but the 26-year-old wasn’t moved, grinning reluctantly only to appease those around.  

Some may say, he looked arrogant. Others will realise that the young man was so overcome by emotions that his face didn’t have the range to express it or anything at all. Puffy hair-do now under the weight of his cap, he nonchalantly strolled to the dressing room.

The entire moment, lasting all of a couple of minutes, was Iyer’s initiation to Test cricket. Only, he had the gait of someone who had been here forever.

Iyer’s first-class career began in 2014, and while the start wasn’t ideal, he said everything he had to with a powerful 75 against Uttar Pradesh at the Green Park Stadium in Kanpur.

That knock, not only changed the course of Mumbai’s fate in that game, it also let Iyer know he belonged there. As a skillset, he always knew he could bat, but batting is as much mental ability as it is physical execution. 

As the season rolled on, he scored 809 runs at an average of 50.56 and a strike rate of 75.89. While fantastic, these numbers didn’t whet the appetite of Mumbaikars. Promising but not enough, they said. 

The next season yielded 1321 runs at an average of 73.38 and a strike rate of 92.70. Enough? 

The Indian team couldn’t ignore Iyer for long, but his striking abilities seemed better suited for limited-overs cricket. He was cast and eventually stereotyped. It didn’t help that he was doing serious damage with the Delhi Capitals in the Indian Premier League. 

His red-ball brilliance was now reduced to a statistic. Many a name came and claimed middle-order slots in Tests, best of the lot being Hanuma Vihari. Iyer waited. As fate would have it, a long list of players skipped this Test and Vihari was off on India A duty, meaning Iyer would have his moment. Serendipitously, in Kanpur.  

Out of the pavilion with India on 106 for 3, Iyer cooly walked over to the centre. It was 12:50 pm and the crowd let out a quick cheer. His opening runs weren’t the most convincing as he skied Ajaz Patel just over a back-peddling Kane Williamson at mid-off. The last ball of the same over, he whipped a short ball to the midwicket fence and stood admiring.  

There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and elite athletes often toe that line. Iyer’s no different. But with an unbeaten 75 on debut, he reiterated that his looks and his attitude aren’t without reason. By 4.32 pm, everyone was convinced.

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