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Ranji Trophy: Shreyas Iyer and the battle of perception

There’s no doubting his quality and he is a proven performer but he needs to show he is committed to the cause.

The last time Shreyas Iyer was playing a Ranji Trophy match at the MCA Sharad Pawar Indoor Stadium in Bandra Kurla Complex, in mid-January, he had a long net session immediately after Mumbai had demolished Andhra.

PREMIUM Shreyas Iyer played in the Ranji Trophy semi-final against Tamil Nadu.

On Monday, he followed the same routine, after his second Ranji Trophy game of the season, at the same venue. Minutes after Mumbai had completed an innings win over Tamil Nadu, Shreyas Iyer didn’t even wait for the photographer’s request for a team photo and rushed back to the dressing room to change into his cricketing gear. A grueling one-hour batting session followed at the nets.

But between the first game and now, so much water has passed under the bridge.

After his first domestic game, fortune had smiled on him. The Test series against England was about to start and he was under pressure to retain his place in the playing XI after KL Rahul decided to play as a pure batter in the middle-order. As luck would have it, an opportunity opened up for him when Virat Kohli pulled out of the Test matches due to personal reasons.

This time, too, he is in need of a change in fortune. The success at the 2023 World Cup is a distant memory. He has lost his place in the Test team, has lost his BCCI central contract and doesn’t seem to be in the scheme of things for the T20 World Cup team as well.

After his unavailability for Mumbai’s quarter-final match, questions were raised over his appetite for playing domestic cricket. And, when a tournament is so close to the start of the Indian Premier League, the immediate inference drawn is that players are preferring the IPL. Iyer, somewhat, dispelled those doubts by opting to play the Ranji semi-final game.

But it proved to be a forgettable outing for him. In batting, he was bowled off the eighth ball he faced for just three runs and dropped a sitter on the first ball of Tamil Nadu’s second innings of the bowling of Shardul Thakur. Mainly manning the short-midwicket, mid-off, square-leg and point area, his body language looked fine, moving around with confidence in typical fashion. But the lapses in concentration in batting and fielding point towards that something is amiss. It’s natural the recent turmoil could have affected him to some extent.

There’s no doubting his quality. He is a proven performer. The challenge for him is to dispel the perception that is forming around his ambition for the longer format, especially whether his body can cope with the rigours of the five-day games after his back surgery. It can affect his chances of a comeback, especially after captain Rohit Sharma’s statement about players having the hunger for the red-ball format will be preferred.

“Cricket is tough, he has to perform (to make a comeback). (And) He has been a performer. Iyer will also have the IPL (to prove himself),” said Ashok Malhotra, the former India batter, who was doing commentary on the Ranji semifinal.

To his credit Iyer regrouped towards the end of the game by signing off with a catch off the last ball of the game. Contrary to talk of him training for the IPL with his Kolkata Knight Riders team, his one-hour batting session was with the red ball, in preparation for the Ranji Trophy final from Sunday.

There’s no better proof of one’s commitment than a strong performance and runs in the final will be the first step towards his comeback. Many international cricketers have gone through a lean patch, have been required take the domestic route back to the top. One of examples is in front of him, his Mumbai captain Ajinkya Rahane. Last season Rahane slugged it out in the Ranji Trophy to earn a comeback into the Test team when there was an opening for the World Test Championship final.

After leading his team into the final, captain Rahane said the approach is important: “Whether it is Test cricket, domestic cricket or club cricket, my approach is the same.”

These words will perhaps ring truer for Iyer at this moment than most.


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