Shreyas Iyer loves the Ferozshah Kotla. This is the venue where he made his international debut in a T20 fixture against New Zealand last winter. This is also the venue where he took confident strides to cement his reputation as a batsman with oodles of flair, when he turned out for the Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League. Over the last four seasons, the capital crowd has increasingly become familiar with the Mumbaikar, and expects similar performances from him when he came over as captain of India B in the Deodhar Trophy. They would have been disappointment after two relatively low scores (41 and 10) in the first two matches. Iyer, however, had reserved his best for the summit clash, where he scored a counter-attacking 114-ball 148 to delight the crowd with his breathtaking stroke-play.
However, the effort went in vain as his team went down to India C by 29 runs. Shreyas was not the lone batsman to register a three-figure score on Saturday.
There were two other centurions in this high-scoring final where runs were amassed at a frenetic pace. India C took first strike on probably the best batting surface of the competition, and were buoyed by contrasting centuries from their openers – captain Ajinkya Rahane’s unbeaten 144 and wicketkeeper Ishan Kishan’s 114. The duo’s 210-run stand, which came in a shade over 30 overs, propelled them to 352. Ishan provided the fireworks at the start, smoking six sixes, while Rahane found some much-needed form, playing second-fiddle for the better part of their grand alliance.
India B lost Mayank Agarwal early in the chase. But that didn’t deter Iyer. Walking in at No.3, he kept finding ways to keep the scoreboard ticking. Through two partnerships, a 116-run stand with opener Ruturaj Gaikwad, and a 65-run partnership for the fifth wicket with Ankush Bains, India B looked poised to overhaul the stiff target. But even as wickets kept tumbling around him, Iyer motored along single-handedly, finding a boundary almost every over. The Kotla crowd was vociferous in their support for Iyer as he went past the three-figure mark.
Despite being hindered by cramps after reaching his personal landmark, he continued to score at a brisk pace. With 58 needed from eight overs, Iyer smoked leg-spinner Rahul Chahar for two sixes, but perished trying to clear the fence for the third time in the over. Once the captain departed, India B’s chase lost steam.
Out of the three centuries, it was Iyer’s ton, replete with eight sixes, that would live long in memory. Simply because of the circumstances under which it was orchestrated, just a day after his return to India’s T20 squad after a gap of eight months.
In his time away from the national team, Iyer kept keeping scorers busy on the domestic circuit and was also a regular feature in the India A sides. But breaking into the national team was proving to be difficult. He admitted that the period away from international cricket was frustrating. “It is really tough to be patient. When you perform consistently, get runs and then don’t get into the (senior) team, it runs into your mind. And, when you face quality bowling at the top level, your performance keeps fluctuating. So, you need to keep yourself focused and, it affects you at times,” he said.
In the four years since his first-class debut, the 24-year-old has always taken his game to the next level every time a challenge presented itself. Like in the middle of the last IPL season, when Gautam Gambhir stepped down as Delhi Daredevils captain after a string of lacklustre performances, and Iyer had to step into the breach. He immediately responded with a match-winning 40-ball 93 against the Kolkata Knight Riders.
His performances could not take his side into the playoffs, but Iyer managed to create a lasting impression on coach Ricky Ponting. “He is a terrific player… I see a huge future for him in the game,” the Aussie legend quipped.
Following the IPL, Iyer led Mumbai to their first Vijay Hazare title in 12 seasons. “I really love the captaincy role. It’s a challenge that I relish, and whenever I get this role, my character and attitude changes totally, as I see to it that I get the best out of myself as well as the team,” he said.
Even today, on his happy hunting ground, Iyer was up to the challenge and ready for a fight as the captain. Long after Iyer quits the game, it’s this constant yearning for challenges that will define him as a player.
Brief Scores: India C 352/7 (Rahane 144 not out, Kishan 114) beat India B 323 in 46.2 overs (Iyer 148, Ruturaj Gaikwad 60) by 29 runs.