Having grown up in Shivaji Park, one of the oldest cricketing neighbourhoods in Mumbai, cricket came naturally to Shreyas Iyer. With promising numbers in the Ranji Trophy and a decent outing in the IPL (for Delhi Daredevils) in three seasons, he has been in the reckoning for the national team for quite some time. But the 22-year-old is yet to cross that line.
On Tuesday, the right-handed batsman served another reminder to the selectors of his talent, smashing an unbeaten 140 off 131 balls . He, along with skipper Manish Pandey (32 not out), steered India 'A' to a seven-wicket victory against South Africa 'A' and helped it win the tri-series title in Pretoria.
While Iyer was adjudged the Man of the Match, Pandey — who missed the ICC Champions Trophy and the tour of West Indies due to an injury — bagged the Player of the Series award for scoring 307 runs, which included three half-centuries, in five outings.
Coaches Pravin Amre and Irfan Sait spoke to Sportstar about the temperament of their wards, Iyer and Pandey respectively, and how they keep them motivated.
Similar stories, different times
“It was a crucial game and a decider. He likes to contribute in such games and for any cricketer, it is special. Shreyas reserved his best for the final, as he hadn’t scored a big one in the tournament. He has the temperament to handle pressure and is capable of delivering when it matters the most,” said Amre, who has been Iyer’s mentor for over a decade. The 48-year-old also became the go-to coach for young cricketers after guiding the India U-19 team to the World Cup title in 2012.
Though the senior Indian team barely has any vacancy, Amre leaves no stone unturned to keep his unit motivated. Iyer earned a call-up to the national side earlier this year, and he ran out Steve O’Keefe while coming on as a substitute fielder in the series-deciding fourth Test against Australia in Dharamsala.
“The same thing had happened with Ajinkya Rahane in his early days. He had scored over 1,000 runs every domestic season, but never got a chance. But a Test cap is special and it shouldn’t matter how many years it takes to achieve it. Whatever is in your hand, you need to do that and leave the rest to the almighty. The players need to maintain their form and improve with every game,” said Amre, who often shares stories of his younger days with his students.
Amre, who faced similar hardships in the early 90s as a player, can relate to Iyer’s predicament. He played 11 Tests, which included a century on debut against South Africa in Durban in 1992, and 37 ODIs before being dropped unceremoniously. “I was a 12th man for about 13 Tests before earning a place. I feel being a 12th man is also important as you are with the squad. It is better than not being in the squad at all. You need to wait and follow your routine,” he said.
Talking about Iyer’s prospects of making the Indian team, he reasoned, “You never know. The fact that he was in the squad, against Australia, means the selectors have an eye on him. He also has more shots in his armoury. He has worked hard on his cut and pull shots.”
Pandey, the finisher
Sait, who has taught Pandey the artistry of the willow since he was nine, called his ward a finisher. “He can finish games with a smile on his face. Manish knew he would excel. His passion for the game is unmatched and he likes to dominate,” he said.
He believes Pandey’s strength lies in being calm. “He doesn’t express any anger on the field, which shows he has the ability to overcome any obstacle. I am yet to see another kid who enjoyed attacking bowlers with a smile,” added Sait, who also mentored players like Robin Uthappa and woman cricketer Veda Krishnamurthy.
The middle-order batsman has had some mixed fortunes in the Indian set-up but his coach believes Pandey’s determination has been unperturbed. “A cricketer should enjoy his cricket. If he does that, he will be in a positive frame of mind. Manish was unlucky to have been injured at the peak of his career, but his focus is to play for the country. Recently, he has been hitting all around the park and he runs like a hare. There will be no stopping him,” Sait added.
The 27-year-old Karnataka batsman’s recent flourish could earn him a recall to the ODI squad against Sri Lanka this month, but Iyer’s future remains to be seen.