How often in the past two years have we heard the words, ‘I don’t have have anything to prove’?
The words were little more than defensive statements given by batters under a great deal of pressure because each time you step out to play for India, you do have something to prove.
And perhaps that is why Shreyas Iyer’s innings in the second Test against West Indies was like a breath of fresh air. Here we had a young batter with something to prove, the intent to make his mark and the hunger to show that he is good enough or even better than the player he is replacing.
He wasn’t dwelling on what he has achieved so far or about how he has come good in similar situations plenty of times before. Rather, he just wanted to go out there and prove himself in difficult conditions’ prove that he belongs.
Iyer scored a vital 92 off 98 balls to help India reach 252 on a tough Bengaluru wicket against Sri Lanka. It was just Day 1 of the day-night Test but given what the pitch was doing, it could clearly have been mistaken for a Day 3 or even Day 4 wicket.
By the time Iyer came out to bat, sharp turn and low bounce had already made an appearance. The Indian team had, on its part, already decided that it wasn’t just going to hang around on. They were going to actively look for scoring opportunities and when one did arrive, they would look to go big.
On such wickets, there is always the chance of the ball doing something unexpected and if one wanted further proof then one only had to look at the ball that skidded that trapped Virat Kohli LBW. There was nothing the former India skipper could have done about that.
“When I was waiting to bat, I could see there was drama happening every over,” said Iyer in the press conference. “I just decided I couldn’t get out defending the ball because there was more chance of getting out that way. So we had to have that intent.”
So Iyer, and before him Rishabh Pant, went for quick runs. They looked to attack anything loose and put as many runs on the board as possible.
Early in his innings. Iyer missed a wild switch hit attempt but then as he settled in, his class against spinners also became apparent. He has so many run-scoring options and is very nimble at the crease.
Sri Lanka’s bowlers didn’t quite know how to take advantage of the wicket either. They bowled far too many loose deliveries and the Indian batters took advantage of that. Left-arm spinner Praveen Jayawickrama, who came into the playing XI, took quite a hammering as did Dhananjaya de Silva. Even Lasith Embuldeniya, their best spinner by a distance, almost went at 4 runs an over.
On a wicket that was helping the spinners, they needed to keep it tight but instead, they allowed India to move the game along at a fast rate and take command of the situation. One might argue that batters like Pant and Iyer didn’t allow them to settle either.
Iyer, who got two lives during the course of his innings, stayed positive even when India were reduced to 126/5 at the fall of Pant’s wicket.
Thereafter, Iyer dominated the partnerships with the lower order and somehow helped India double their score. The 252 runs on board seemed more than enough and by the time the day’s play came to a close, Sri Lanka had crashed to 86/6.
Iyer’s innings will go a long way towards cementing his place in the XI and just because he hasn’t done it before doesn’t mean he can’t do it better than someone who has.
Iyer knows that there are plenty of young batters waiting in the wings in India and while the team will back him, he is still being watched and judged by the fans.