It was as if the eyes – and the cameras – of everybody gathered were set on auto-focus mode.
India had scheduled an optional training session on a sultry Colombo morning. It was the eve of their last league game against Bangladesh, who were already knocked out of the men’s Asia Cup. The eyes were fixed on the team bus as the coaching staff and players alighted to head into the nets facility at the R Premadasa Stadium.
Rahul Dravid, Paras Mhambrey, Shardul Thakur, T Dilip and Tilak Varma all walked before the cameras, and the eyes of the media personnel watching panned. Shreyas Iyer, who would be the subject of interest for the next 90 minutes, made his way into the nets area, greeting a few familiar faces that stood.
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Iyer was training for the first time after his latest mini-setback. He suffered back spasms while warming up moments before India’s Super Four match against Pakistan on Sunday. Iyer was out of action since the home series against Australia in March due to a back condition that required surgery. He missed IPL 2023 and only returned for the Asia Cup, where he played two games before the latest jolt. He batted in the group game against Pakistan in Pallekele but wasn’t needed against Nepal.
Iyer was perhaps the busiest of the five players that turned up for the optional training. He underwent stretching, particularly his back, with the trainer Rajnikanth. After about 15 minutes of jogging, he did short sprints and a stretch-walk, before he proceeded to the third nets, the farthest from the side the media were at.
After a short stint of underarm throwdowns, he proceeded to face fast-bowling throwdowns as well as a couple of net bowlers. Iyer showed no visible signs of discomfort – be it while getting forward while lacing the off drive or while transferring his weight back to pull and heave the length and back-of-length deliveries. A batting stint – across two nets – that started around 10:55 am only ended when batting coach Vikram Rathour called time on training at around 11:40 am.
Shreyas Iyer had missed the entirety of IPL 2023 before returning for the Asia Cup•Getty Images
A few crisp straight drives had the throwdown guys as well as the net bowlers near the sightscreen ducking for cover. A “Well done, Shreyas!” by Rathour followed by slow claps capped off a productive morning for Iyer. Whether he will play against Bangladesh – or in the final on Sunday – is anybody’s guess. But that Iyer showed his readiness after another scare would please the team management.
While Iyer batted at the far nets, Ravindra Jadeja and Thakur batted in pairs, rotating strike after six balls apiece in the first net. Tilak and birthday boy Suryakumar Yadav did the same in the middle nets. Even while Rathour was feeding balls to Iyer, he had an eye on Tilak, often throwing in a loud “shot, Tilak!” or “badhiya (excellent), Tilak” cheer towards him.
After about half an hour of nets, Tilak proceeded to bowl his offspin to Jadeja in the first net. Throughout the stint he discussed his grip, the areas to bowl, and flight with Mhambrey, who had a keen eye on proceedings. Mhambrey coached the India Under-19 team in 2020 in South Africa, of which Tilak was a part.
“We have been working with Tilak since the Under-19 days,” Mhambrey said after training. “I felt that when we had gone to South Africa for Under-19 (World Cup), he had a bowling skill that we could definitely use, and so we have been working on that consistently.
“We are looking to see if he plays and manages to get a chance to bowl even one over, we’ll start from there. If we can look at that and gain confidence from his bowling, the captain will have an option.
“In case we need an extra spinner given the circumstances – based on conditions or opposition batters – especially if there are left-handers and you need an offspinner, we need an option to go to. So, we are working with him on his bowling.”
While Mhambrey conceded that the team combination for the Bangladesh game is yet to be decided, he said there is a chance that India could try out a few options given they have sealed their spot for the final and there is a home World Cup in the offing.
Whatever Tilak, Jadeja, Shardul or Suryakumar did, though, turned to be a mere footnote given Iyer was the clear focal point.
S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo