Many would have shouted the famous words of commentator Fazeer Mohammed: ‘Why did he do that?’ Almost.
A few deliveries into his much-awaited Test debut, Shreyas Iyer unleashed a nervy moment like only he can. Having received his Test cap from the legendary Sunil Gavaskar, the debutant took the aerial route in the eighth ball he faced to get off the mark.
The Little Master, known for his “playing in the 'V' and not hitting in the air” brand of cricket, might have disapproved of Iyer's shot selection.
Walking in at number five with India three down for 106, Iyer carried the hopes of the team and fans with him as he took guard.
It wasn't a favourable position to be in for the hosts after having won the toss in conditions considered good for batting at the Green Park in Kanpur.
Astonishingly, Iyer suddenly decided to take the aerial route against left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel off the outer half of the bat. Kane Williamson, running back from mid-off couldn’t get to the ball in time, and Iyer got off the mark in his Test career with two runs.
Captain Ajinkya Rahane, at the other end on 10, would have considered it or possibly did tell Iyer that his shot was outrageous.
India had lost Cheteshwar Pujara, who hit his first four on the 75th ball he faced and Shubman Gill, who shone at the start hitting 52 before failing to counter an incoming Kyle Jamieson delivery. Opener Mayank Agarwal was nicked out early by the lanky pacer.
A couple of deliveries later, unfazed Iyer pulled a rank half-tracker from Patel through mid-wicket to hit his first four and truly get going.
Iyer has been in the domestic circuit long enough to be called an experienced player despite being all of 26 years old. His First Class average before his Test debut was 52.18 and he had scored the 4,592 runs at over 81 runs per 100 balls.
In 2015-16, when Mumbai won the Ranji Trophy title for the 41st time, Iyer topped the batting charts, scoring 1,321 runs in 11 matches at a stupendous average of 73.38 and a strike rate in the 90s. He finished just 95 shy of former India batter VVS Laxman’s tally for the highest-ever score in a season.
Every season, Iyer showed his mettle but the call-up to the Test side was elusive. In 2017, he was named in the squad for the first time, when Virat Kohli was ruled out of the home Tests against Australia. Though Iyer didn’t get game-time then, he cherished the experience of being amidst the Indian Test team. It held him in good stead.
All of what he learnt over the years was on show in Kanpur. Jamieson, India’s nemesis in Tests, was beautifully flicked through square leg when he bowled around middle early in Iyer’s innings. While the word “aggressive” often accompanies Iyer whenever he bats, he was anything but that for the rest of the middle session. It was a phase when India also lost Rahane to slip to four for 145, but Iyer was unfazed.
In Ravindra Jadeja’s company, Iyer flourished. He began the final session with a crisp drive off left-arm spinner Rachin Ravindra. He wasn’t afraid to take his chances against his fellow debutant from New Zealand. The change of gears was more evident after his maiden fifty off 94 balls.
Iyer first played a late cut off Patel before dancing down the track, when the bowler switched angles, to thump him over wide long-on. He then brought out the whip over deep mid-wicket against off-spinner William Somerville for another maximum. Iyer displayed the perfect example of wearing out the bowlers before going on the offensive.
Iyer and Jadeja, who is not out on 50, have added 113 together. The former, who was ready for Tests from at least a couple of years ago, if not more, will know that this is his moment to seize and to make the most of the position he is in. A big hundred here will make him hard to ignore. After all, when Kohli returns for the second Test, Iyer could still be the one to miss out.
If the risky shot to get off the mark defines Iyer, the final half an hour, when he went on an attacking spree describes him.
While not all might have liked his first couple of runs, he did get a word of praise from former India opener and Mumbai captain Wasim Jaffer.
“He plays attacking cricket, which is needed at five and six. He plays spin well and has an attitude similar Rohit Sharma, coming from Mumbai,” said Jaffer speaking on a show on ESPNcricinfo.
“Whenever he’s in doubt he takes the aggressive option. He is not afraid to play his shots. He’s not afraid to back his game, which is how he got his first runs.”
Jaffer knew why he did that.
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