Over the course of his furious 128, Shreyas Iyer would repeat one movement at the non-striker’s end. It was shadow batting but with a particular slant to it. He would tap the bat, hold it up, and would look over his shoulder to check if it was aligned parallel to the ground and not vertically behind his shoulders as it used to be when the World Cup began. He would then start his downward bat swing, as if he were pulling a short ball, paying total attention to whether the bat was coming down horizontally to his eye-level. He did this move right till the end of the innings.
Shreyas’ problem against short-pitched deliveries is well documented. Since his comeback after the injury, once at the Asia Cup against Pakistan and twice at this World Cup against New Zealand and England, Shreyas had fallen to the short ball. At Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium, before the Sri Lanka game, he spent long hours with head coach Rahul Dravid at the nest to overcome this issue.
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Mohammad Kaif, former India batsman who commentates on Star Sports, had noted the change. With visuals of before and after, contrasting his dismissal against England to his tweaked technique, Kaif explained the change. Against England, he was holding the bat vertically up, toe-end pointing to the sky at stance, and it would even tilt further past the ears before it would start coming down to meet the ball. It was not only consuming precious seconds, but it was also affecting the smoothness of the bat swing.
Next, the visual of the course-correction was highlighted. As he would do against Netherlands, the bat was now held behind him, not quite parallel to ground, but certainly not all the way vertically up as before.
““His bat is going behind, which means he is getting the force into the shots. At the same time, it allows him to meet the ball in front,” Kaif had said. The visuals hold the proof. Against England, since he was late in getting the bat down, he was cramped when meeting the ball, forced to play the ball too close to the body. Against Netherlands, and South Africa, the bat had smoothly come down a lot quicker and he could wallop the ball well in front of his body, with almost full-arm extension. For someone who used to make room as soon as he saw the ball being dropped so that he could slap bat it over the covers or through mid-wicket, this tweak is allowing Shreyas to stay still at the crease.
Mayank Agarwal used to hold the bat-end skywards, until Sunil Gavaskar told him to correct it. The reason for the vertical bat-lift was explained to this newspaper by Mayank’s coach RX Murali.
“The bat is at its heaviest when parallel to the ground. When it’s vertically up – or down – it’s lightest. When it’s 90-degree facing skywards or downwards, it’s lighter. Mayank wasn’t comfortable keeping it down. So, we decided to take it up.” But problems began in the downward swing. “He used to cock his wrists so much that his bat used to pass his front shoulder at times. It wasn’t helping him time the ball well. Since he had to uncock it perfectly before hitting the ball, he wasn’t able to repeat it consistently.”
Shreyas’s course-correction of that wrist-unlocking mess is to now change the angle and height of the bat at stance. What is remarkable is that he has tweaked in the middle of a World Cup campaign. To do it when the stakes are as high, needs plenty of conviction and also trust from the team-management.
Rahul Dravid had put it thus on the match eve. “Everyone will have areas that they need to work on and need to improve, it’s not – someone might have some other area, there’s no complete batsman who can say that I can, I know everything or I’m very good at everything? You are always going to need areas to improve. But at the end of the day, you have to be judged by the results you produce. And the runs you score and when you score them,” Dravid had said of Shreyas’ struggles against short-ball.
The tweak held up at least on Diwali night as whenever the Dutch tested him, Shreyas kept meeting the ball in front of his eyes with the bat face at optimum position at the moment of making contact with the ball. Sterner tests against quality attack will portray the right picture, but there is enough reason for Shreyas to feel encouraged.
Unlike his innings at the Eden Gardens, this was Shreyas at his free-flowing best. With the Netherlands attack hardly posing any challenge, the only thing that Shreyas had to ensure was not throw away his wicket like Shubman Gill, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli had done.
Having come into bat with India placed at 129/2 in the 18th over, the dismissal of Kohli in the 29th over set up for a nice little challenge. With Suryakumar and Ravindra Jadeja to follow, it was interesting to see how Shreyas went about it. But, not once did he attempt to slow the tempo, instead going on the attack at all times, further establishing his reputation as an enforcer in the middle-order. That Shreyas’ century was the first for an Indian middle-order batsman since Suresh Raina scored one against Zimbabwe in the 2015 World Cup, was a validation of the faith shown by the team-management.
“One of the things Shreyas has shown us right from the India A time when I was coaching is his temperament, the way he handles success, failure. He’s terrific temperamentally,” Dravid had said. “So, when someone like him does well, you know he’s going to make big contributions. It may not always work out, but when it does, you know someone like him is going to make a big play.”