Everyone has a plan until they get knocked down by short-pitched bowling. This has been a constant theme of Shreyas Iyer’s cricketing career. A fearsome striker of the spin, Iyer adds much-needed dynamism to the Test side, especially at a time when the format itself is undergoing a cultural shift of favouring strokemakers over grafter.
In the build-up to the rescheduled Test at Edgbaston, those who argued against his inclusion talked about his dodgy game against the short ball. For those in favour, the argument was a bit more nuanced. Since this English side doesn’t have any full-fledged express bowlers, a punt on Iyer is worth taking.
Fast forward to four days of Test cricket, Iyer has vindicated his doubters. He didn’t fall to rising deliveries from Mark Wood or Jofra Archer, but to the bowlers who barely touched the higher end of 130s in the speed gun. At 38, James Anderson has experienced a significant drop in his speed. Matt Potts, the new pace sensation, bowls in the mid 130s. And yet both of them got the better of Shreyas Iyer through short-pitched deliveries.
It was the default mode of attack for the English bowlers against Iyer. The first ball he faced on Day 4 was short and angled into his body by Broad, which Iyer spliced uncomfortably to the mid-wicket. James Anderson, who rarely pulls back his length, was seen peppering the batter with short stuff. The English bowlers flirted with the line but length almost remained constant. After doing just about enough to pull the batter back to the crease, they delivered a teasing half-volley, which Iyer did well to play.
It was anything but surprising that his dismissal came against a short ball. A kind of dismissal that would displease everyone from the player himself to even the benchwarmers. Iyer is not new to the scene, and his struggle against short-ball is known to anyone with even passing interest in the game.
He broke into the side on the back of a terrific century on his Test debut in Kanpur, where he made batting look easy while the rest of the team struggled to negate the vicious turn. He came to the crease at 145/5 and took apart the Kiwi spinners with surgical precision. In the next game, at the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru, Iyer managed 92 off just 98 deliveries on a minefield. There’s hardly any doubt about his spin game. But other than India, and Sri Lanka, he won’t have any venues to show his spin prowess. And this makes him a liability of sorts in the Test side.
In Edgbaston, he didn’t fall to extravagant swings or seams. He was undone by two medium-fast bowlers, against whom he had all the time in this world to decide whether to play the pull or just let it go. Yet he entangled himself in their trap. His weakness against the short ball has also jeopardized his white-ball chances. With T20 World Cup happening in Australia, where the bowlers extract good bounce from the pitch, the decision to include Iyer can backfire.
Wasim Jaffer cautioned everyone about his game against the rising delivery. If Iyer is struggling against medium-fast deliveries, imagine how challenging it would be to bat against bowlers who regularly clock over 140kph.
“Sometimes I feel, even in ODIs, the bowlers target him there,” Jaffer said. “And in Test cricket, he’s going to get peppered with short balls. When he goes to South Africa, I am sure they’re going to test him there. And that is something, a test he needs to pass. Because you can’t take them on, somebody who’s bowling 140-145 [kph].”
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