MUMBAI: The moment Shreyas Iyer reached his hundred on Test debut against New Zealand at Green Park in Kanpur on Friday, his coach Pravin Amre’s mind went back to December 2014, when facing a ‘do-or-get dropped’ situation in his then nascent career at the same venue, Iyer slammed a strokeful 75 against Uttar Pradesh, rescuing Mumbai from 53 for five, and eventually shaping a crucial role in helping his team score an outright win.
As a Mumbai coach back then, pressure was on Amre too that Iyer came good, since it was he who had pushed Iyer’s case, having known the prodigious talent of a boy he had coached at the Shivaji Park Gymkhana since he was 12. “My mind is today racing back to how this 105 is as important to him as that 75 was seven years ago. This was a similar situation. Before his Test debut, he knew that Virat Kohli would be back for the next Test, and his place would be in danger. Now he has done whatever was in his hands. As his coach, I’m very happy because this innings is a statement from him that he belongs to all the three formats. He has shown his critics that he can do well in Test cricket too. He’s not just a white-ball specialist,” an emotional Amre told TOI.
“He has given a good selection headache to coach Rahul Dravid and the selectors before the next Test,” said the Mumbaikar, tongue-in-cheek.
Amre felt that it perhaps boosted Iyer that he received his Test cap from the legendary Sunil Gavaskar. “He plays spin very well, so that wasn’t a surprise. The challenge for him was that it was a slow wicket. He showed excellent application. He tends to hit the bowlers over the top early in his innings, but he took his time to score his half-century. Maybe, it helped him that before the Test, he received his Test cap from Gavaskar sir. You could see that ‘Midas touch’ of Gavaskar-applying himself in the middle, putting a price tag on his wicket-in his batting,” Amre observed.
“I’m really happy and proud of him today. Shreyas’ success is special for me, simply because I’ve been a part of his journey, from when he was 12 and came to us to learn cricket at Shivaji Park Gymkhana till now,” an emotional Amre told TOI.
The former India batsman turned coach felt that his ward should have made his Test debut much earlier. “He should’ve got his Test cap long back-when he scored 1321 runs for Mumbai in the 2015-16 Ranji Trophy season. However, he has grabbed his opportunity with both hands,” Amre said.
That ‘blockbuster season’ was Iyer’s second in first-class cricket, and it saw him score just 95 runs short of VVS Laxman’s then record for most runs in an edition of the Ranji Trophy. Eventually, it took Iyer to score 4592 runs in 54 first-class games at an average of 52.18, before finally, at the age of 26, he was considered worthy of a Test cap.
Amre recalled how difficult it was to get Iyer to top-level cricket after a bad shoulder injury during an ODI against England in March ruled him out of the game for six months and required a big surgery. “It was a completely new experience for him. He never went through something like this. Only someone who’s in that situation knows how tough it is. From the age of 12, he has been playing cricket, and never sat at home for as long as two months like this. He was dejected at missing out on playing in the T20 World Cup due to the injury. That injury was the sole reason he didn’t play in the World Cup. He was in so much pain that he used to tell me: ‘Even my enemy should not get this injury.’
Amre recalls how difficult it was to get Iyer to top-level cricket after that injury. “I started training him at BKC, but considering that he was still recovering from the injury, I had to be careful about his workload. Our target was September 19-Delhi Capitals’ first match in the IPL. We wanted him to be match-fit for that. By God’s grace, everything went well, and he was named as the Man of the Match in the second IPL match itself,” he said.
Revealing his advice to Iyer before the Mumbai bat made his Test debut, Amre said: “It was a challenging situation, since he was playing international cricket after a couple of months, and a first-class game for the first time since featuring in an Irani Cup game in February 2019. I told him: ‘Do what’s in your hands, and leave the rest to God. You won’t get his opportunity again. Just back yourself.’ He’s a batsman who actually always backs himself,” Amre said.
At every stage of his career, Amre can take credit for Iyer’s growth as a player. As an assistant coach of the Delhi Daredevils (now Delhi Capitals), it was he who played an instrumental role in the IPL franchise recruiting him back in 2014 “It was important that I took him to DC (then DD) then. At all levels, he justified my faith in his abilities,” Amre concluded.
Like in Rohit Sharma’s case with the Mumbai Indians, it helped Iyer that he became Delhi Capitals’ captain later. “It made him more responsible about his batting, and helped his game immensely,” said Amre.
Though the Delhi Capitals have released him for the auction, Iyer is likely to be a hot pick at the IPL auctions next month.

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