Iyer reinstates expertise against spin with assurance and calm

Shreyas Iyer has had a highly impressive start to his Test career, which continued in India’s 2-0 series win against Bangladesh.
Shreyas Iyer

"If he 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," said Ravichandran Ashwin on Shreyas Iyer, after bagging the Player of the Match award in India’s tense three-wicket win over Bangladesh in the second Test in Dhaka on Sunday, December 25.

Ashwin, known to be one of the finest readers of the game, perhaps pre-assumed Iyer to bag the Player of the Series or might’ve been misinformed about it, for it was Cheteshwar Pujara, who was eventually adjudged so. That the call was debated on social media despite Pujara having scored more runs than Iyer reinstates latter’s contribution in the series.

A point in case would be Sunday’s play, wherein India stumbled from overnight 45/4 to 74/7, still 81 adrift from a 145-run target on a highly challenging surface for batters. Iyer scored 29* off 46 in a defining stand with Ashwin, 13 lesser in magnitude than the latter but much more in terms of substance. 

Notably, Iyer walked in at No.8 as a result of Axar Patel and Jaydev Unadkat’s ( as a nightwatchman) promotion in the batting order, meaning Bangladesh, ahead for a major part of the last innings, were just a wicket away from an opening. There was firm assurance from the Mumabikar though, even as the ball got softer and kept low on numerous occasions, perhaps justifying as to why he is rated one of the best players against spin among the current batters. There were calculated risks in between, a feature of his batting throughout the series, which pushed the bowlers away from an ideal length.

A classic play occurred in the 41st over of the chase bowled by Shakib Al Hasan, with India still 47 away. Iyer stepped down and lofted one with the spin with firm assurance over mid-off for four. A bowler as experienced as Shakib was forced to go flat, and a ball later, a short ball was pounced on by Iyer with a firm pull over mid-wicket for another four. Two strokes and nearly one-fifth of the runs remaining were knocked off.

He might have missed out on hundreds twice in a series he aggregated 202 runs while being dismissed just twice, but each of Iyer's three knocks carried great substance.

It wasn’t the first time though that Iyer showed his class against spin in Test cricket. Earlier this year, he scored a brilliant counter-attacking 92 in a day-night Test against Sri Lanka in Bangalore in India’s first innings effort of 252, and backed that up with 67 in the second dig. That was about three months after he had scored 105 and 65 on his debut against Sri Lanka in Kanpur.

The maiden Test cap had come after years of toil in first-class cricket, wherein his numbers now read: 5324 runs at 52.71 with 13 hundreds and 29 fifties.

"When someone is performing consistently for you, it is very heartening,” said KL Rahul, who led the side in the series in absence of injured Rohit Sharma. “He (Iyer) has been around for a long time and has had to wait for his opportunities and really happy to see that when has had those opportunities, he has grabbed them with both hands.

“Obviously his journey has not been easy, no one's journey has been easy in the team. The way he is batting is phenomenal. I hope that he can continue to do this and keep getting better."

Iyer could perhaps be labelled India’s best player against spin bowling in a line-up that features KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli. On current form, Rishabh Pant is India’s standout batter, with his style against spin too, unique in its own sense, being more about fighting his way out, thereby offering relatively less composure and assurance than Iyer.

The 27-year-old has had a fair share of criticism for his technique against short-pitched bowling in a young career so far, and that can only be worked on with more opportunities in future. With the current Test average that reads 54.09, he might be slowly making the middle-order spot his own.

The fine run would also help him stay ahead in the race which features the experienced Ajinkya Rahane, who seeks a comeback having recently struck a double hundred in the ongoing Ranji Trophy 2022-23, and the supremely consistent Sarfaraz Khan among others.