That is what Shreyas Iyer is finding out as he continues to struggle with his backfoot game. In 12 innings this season, he has been dismissed to a short ball thrice among his five dismissals by pacers. There was also a searing Umran Malik yorker that beat him all ends up but the wicket was triggered by a few well-directed bouncers in the build-up. Anticipating another in that region, Iyer had backed away to create room on the off-side like he usually does. Malik was a step ahead and slipped in a fuller delivery to outfox the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) captain.
Iyer has still managed to score 336 runs this season at an average of 30.54 and strike rate of 129.23. He is 11th in the list of highest run-getters this season. If he wants to put his place in India’s playing eleven for the T20 World Cup beyond doubt, though, he has work to do on countering the short ball.
The pitches in Australia are certain to carry plenty of pace and bounce at the start of their season in October and November and Iyer will be welcomed to the crease almost every time with chin music testing his technique.
In the IPL this season, Iyer’s dismissals to the short ball have been a varying mix. While he miscued a pull against Mumbai Indians left-arm pacer Daniel Sams to deep square leg, he was tucked up by Trent Boult – coming round the wicket –against Rajasthan Royals and gloved an attempted pull to Sanju Samson behind the wicket. Against Lucknow Super Giants, who had a clear game plan to pitch it short to not just Iyer but the entire KKR top-order, the 27-year-old got into an awkward position as a tame pull against Dushmantha Chameera lobbed straight to Ayush Badoni at square-leg.
Iyer has perished to spin six times too, but his history against the short ball prompts doubts every time he is dismissed in that fashion.
“The doubts are there. The doubts are legitimate when it comes to his (Iyer’s) discomfort against the short ball. He looked uncomfortable when he went up against Umran Malik,” former West Indian fast bowler and commentator Ian Bishop said on ESPNCricinfo’s ‘T20 Time Out’ recently.
Iyer’s weakness against the bouncer was first seen on India’s tour of Australia two years ago. In the first of three ODIs, the Australians placed a short-leg and leg slip as soon as Iyer walked to the middle in the tenth over of a daunting run chase of 375. He lasted all of two balls. His second ball was directed towards his head by Josh Hazlewood and left him in an almighty tangle. Iyer had taken his eyes off the ball and the bat hung above his head like a periscope, the ball ballooning off it for wicketkeeper Alex Carey to complete a simple catch near leg slip.
Whenever Iyer took guard on that tour thereafter, it felt as though a barrage of bouncers was never far away. Across the three ODIs and two T20Is in the series, his highest score was 38.
Since then, Iyer has had mixed results in dealing with the short ball. During the home series against Sri Lanka in February, he racked up scores of 57*, 74* and 73* to put in a Player of the Series performance. The likes of Chameera and Lahiru Kumara had the pace to push Iyer back and test him, but the middle-order batter was often treating their short balls with utter disdain.
Did he put in extra preparation against the short ball during the Sri Lanka series? “Honestly, I’ve not worked on it. I’m just playing the way I used to. If you have the right mindset, you can play any ball,” Iyer had said.
“It does not make any difference to me if you think I have a weakness. I’ve obviously reached this level by playing short-pitched balls. You don’t have to prepare separately for this. Every player has strengths and weaknesses, and while focusing too much on your weakness, you should not forget your strength. My mindset is that I will focus on my strength. I know how I play, and obviously, you have seen the results.”
There’s no doubt that Iyer will be done in by the short ball in the future too just like everyone else, but if he can bring down the frequency of such dismissals between now and the T20 World Cup, he is likely to board that flight to Australia with the confidence needed for a marquee event.