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Why it’s better to swap Iyer and Pant's batting positions

It’s been a long time since someone in the Indian middle-order showed such command in accumulating runs without going for the big shots — at least not since MS Dhoni in his prime.

Aug 12, 2019, 10.51 PM IST
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Rishabh Pant bats during the second MyTeam11 ODI between the West Indies and India at the Queen's Park Oval. (File Photo)
By Amit Chaudhary

Didn’t we all miss this? The composure, the intelligence, the steadfastness of a matured, confident middle-order batsman helping India sail through the troubling waters? What Shreyas Iyer delivered with his 71-run knock on his return to the ODI set up against West Indies on Sunday was something India have been yearning for some time now.

It’s been a long time since someone in the Indian middle-order showed such command in accumulating runs without going for the big shots — at least not since MS Dhoni in his prime. And Iyer isn’t even a middle-order batsman. He has always batted in top-order. But by tailoring his game to suit the requirements of middle-order batting, conditions on offer and circumstances, Iyer demonstrated that he has the maturity to handle the responsibility that comes with the role.

Since the announcement of Iyer’s return in the ODI squad, there have been speculations that he would be slotted at No. 4, a position that has been probably debated over more than any Bill in Parliament. On Sunday, however, he walked out to bat at No. 5, behind Rishabh Pant, who is another batsman on whom India are betting big. The circumstances were perfect for Iyer to reannounce himself on the international stage – India were three down with a need for a big partnership on a two-paced pitch. And the one man he needed to impress the most was batting on the other end — captain Virat Kohli.

Iyer is known for his flowing drives and smashing square cuts but here he was required to tamper with his naturally aggressive game and look to rotate strike, milk spinners for ones and twos and bat as long as possible. To his credit, Iyer seamlessly transitioned into this new role and batted like a true, old-fashioned sub-continental accumulator who picked runs by pushing balls into gaps, tapping to third man or gliding down fine-leg. By consistently manipulating the field through clever placements, he wore down the bowlers and never allowed them to strangle the run rate and create pressure.

Ironically, it was the kind of batting that many Indian batsmen tried to do before and during the World Cup but failed miserably. The demands of T20 cricket has made batsmen too keen to hit their way out of trouble. They have either forgotten the art of accumulation or not trained well.

A good example of this is Pant. He is such a powerful hitter of the ball and always looks to dominate the bowling but struggles when the chips are down and is required to curb his shots. In his 35-ball stay on Sunday, Pant scored 20 runs, playing out 23 dot balls. In comparison, Iyer scored 71 off 68 balls with the same number of dots (23) in his account. Even Kohli ate up 58 dots during his 125-ball stay.

The captain must be pretty pleased. There aren’t many occasions when Kohli is in his elements and someone, on the other end, manages to match his efforts. It also gives him hope that at least one middle-order spot seems closer to be filled.

But No. 4 still remains a worry. Pant is a promising batsman, a lefthander too, and needs to be given enough time to fail and learn from his mistakes. The way he batted in this match reflects his conscious efforts to learn the trade. Though in his attempt to transform himself into a No. 4 batsman, he ended up shackling his natural game before impatience led him to play a silly shot, there was clear intention to try and find a balance between aggression and circumspection.

When Pant came in to bat, he had enough overs in front of him to build an innings before launching a fullfledged attack. He had Kohli batting at the other end to draw inspiration from. But that probably worked against him. Neither could he stay with his natural aggressive style of play, nor could he rotate strike against spinners (Roston Chase had him tied to the crease and bowled the only maiden over of the match). Strike-rotation is a prerequisite for any batsman looking to establish himself in the middle-order.

While Pant failed to do that, Iyer provided a master class in strike rotation. Perhaps the team management needs to reanalyse their roles and swap their positions. Batting at No. 5, Pant would have lesser number of overs and lesser confusion about his approach to deal with. He won’t need to drastically alter his natural game. Iyer’s game, on the other hand, seems a better fit for the No. 4 role.

It might be too early to say anything with surety, but whatever the scenario, the two need a long rope to settle down in whatever roles they are assigned.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of
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