Wronged Shreyas Iyer unstoppable in his comeback journey as KKR captain

Shreyas Iyer after winning the IPL 2024 Final vs SRH (PC: IPL)

S.Kannan in Chennai

It was a hot and humid Sunday evening at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chepauk. Ahead of the IPL 2024 final against Sunrisers Hyderabad, one man’s face stared at you from electronic LED screens – Shreyas Iyer. Had the men in charge of preparations for the arena, outside the field of play, hyped Shreyas more than Pat Cummins?

Perhaps not, for KKR had stormed into the final with a measure of comfort. Eventually, after the toss took place and the final was settled well before time, all kinds of comments were heard. This writer was fortunate to get entry into one of the privileged balconies at the Chepauk, where the view was brilliant. It seemed like one could see from so close Mitchell Starc measuring his 20-step run-up and then traversing those steps before releasing the white ball like a sorcerer. He had Shreyas, his captain, backing him with the right field. What a spell Starc produced, and how Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) peaked.

It’s so easy to say that KKR played well, peaked, and then stayed right up there throughout the heat and dust of IPL 2024, spread over two months. Gautam Gambhir, their mentor, has been praised to the skies, and could become the next Team India coach. Chandrakant Pandit, the coach, has worked quietly behind the scenes, while Bharat Arun, the bowling coach, has created monsters from the KKR fast-bowling unit, whose swing, movement and accuracy were spot on.

Does Shreyas not get some credit for all this? Yes he does, though some “Mamas and Mamis” from T Nagar, Alwarpet and Mylapore seated inside Chepauk were a bit miffed that Shreyas, a Tamil Brahmin, had announced a few days earlier that he did not speak Tamil. “Addhu yepdee (how come)?” they asked this writer, as if in disbelief. Simply put, they were surprised and upset. Shreyas, born and raised in Mumbai, merely spoke the truth. And by the time he and his team had completed the demolition job like a JCB bulldozer at work, Shreyas had won back both love and respect.

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KKR skipper, Shreyas Iyer receiving the IPL Trophy (Image: IPL)

There was also talk of Shreyas the enigma, a man pushed to the fringes of Indian cricket at 29. A champion batter who lit up the ICC World Cup last year at various venues in India, including a 100 in the semi-final against New Zealand, he had become synonymous with runs. Then followed the ruins. Shreyas failed in the Test series against England and was dropped like a hot potato. All hell broke loose, with some in the board and others in Mumbai cricket questioning his commitment to the state side after he skipped a Ranji Trophy game.

How Shreyas handled all this in early 2024 was a lesson in being inert when criticism is caustic to the point of becoming acidic. After dealing with back pain, having gone under the knife and also been in rehab at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) and other places, he was struggling, physically and mentally.

He learned through the media that he had lost his central contract. He needed to prove himself, even if that was in the club format of T20 that is the IPL. After the way he has shown strength, fitness, and leadership skills on the field of play, the same critics are now asking why Shreyas is not part of India’s team for the ICC T20 World Cup next month.

In hindsight, each cricket fan in India is a super selector. So many Indian players who did well in the IPL have been overlooked for selection. But after being born in Mumbai, and leading the Delhi franchise to the best of his ability after replacing Gambhir as captain, the journey back to cyclone-hit Kolkata will feel like a homecoming.

KKR after winning IPL 2024 Final (PC: IPL)

These kind of transfers happen in football. Kolkata loves its sport, and the name and a player’s origins matter little. Arun Lal and Ashok Malhotra, two stalwarts from the north, embraced Kolkata cricket a generation ago. And in the IPL age, the two Iyer boys central to KKR’s success, Shreyas and Venkatesh, are a reminder that surnames mean nothing.

What matters is how a player performs and, in the case of Shreyas, how he leads. You may talk of mentors and coaches playing big roles, but even the most innocent cricket fan knows that in cricket, the captain is the pilot at the controls. And with KKR, Shreyas has managed a disparate group of Indians, West Indians, an Aussie, an Englishman in Phil Salt and his Afghan replacement.

What will please Shreyas most is that, in this most brutal of summers, his back held up. He was a pillar of strength for his players, and the combination with Gambhir worked like a charm. Not even 30, he has time on his side to bounce back from the indignities he was subjected to. After all, in Sanskrit, ‘Shreyas’ means auspicious, something which brings good. Ask KKR, and they can tell you more about that.

Also Read: Gautam Gambhir: KKR’s mentor, leader, legend


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