There may not be World Cup Super League points to play for but the ongoing tour to the Caribbean has provided an opportunity for India to test out their bench strength and on Sunday (July 24), it only proved purposeful for Rahul Dravid's charges as they consigned the West Indies to their eighth consecutive loss in ODIs.
It took Axar Patel's last-over six and a rapid unbeaten 35-ball 64 to seal yet another final-over thriller at the Queen's Park Oval in the second ODI. If it was his nerves of steel to help India clinch the series 2-0, it was also Shreyas Iyer's second successive half-century of the series, a stroke-filled 71-ball 63, that proved to be instrumental in turning the tide in India's favour to chase down 312.
For it came in the throes of the hosts posting just their fourth 300-plus total this year and India losing openers, Shikhar Dhawan (13) and Shubman Gill (43), and Suryakumar Yadav (9) by the 18th over with just 79 on the board. Iyer struck four boundaries and a six to bring up his 11th ODI fifty in just 26 innings and stitched a crucial 99-run partnership for the fourth wicket with Sanju Samson (54).
"It was a crucial partnership. We lost two back-to-back wickets. We were 60 for 3 (79/3), and from there, we had to rebuild," he said at the post-match press conference. "Sanju came in and obviously showed a lot of intent. I was already batting. I had faced around 20 balls and was batting on 15. I knew what I was going to do, and Sanju at the same time, faced a few balls, and then he went after the spinners. He hit them for two sixes, and suddenly, the momentum shifted towards us. From there onwards, we built on the partnership and carried forward the momentum."
2nd consecutive half century for @ShreyasIyer15 and a well deserved one.🤩🏏— FanCode (@FanCode) July 24, 2022
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The Indian vice-captain currently averages 57.87 against the West Indies and a healthy 42.56 overall with half of his innings batting at No. 4. However, it's at No. 3 he averages the highest: 55.80 in five innings and Iyer said that's the position he enjoys batting at the most, having done so at the IPL and domestic level.
"It is a fun position to bat at, and I really enjoy it. It is one of the best positions to bat because you go into a very tough situation if the wicket falls in early. You go in and you have to see the new ball and then build your innings. Also if the openers have got into a really good partnership, then you have to go carry forward that momentum, take it on from where they have left and see to it that the run rate is maintained."
Despite hitting his seventh half-century against the West Indies, there was a lingering feeling of disappointment for missing out on an opportunity to convert it into his second ODI century. Iyer was out LBW on umpire's call to a delivery that was just grazing the leg-stump.
"Really fortunate to get to consecutive half-centuries. But I should have converted it into a century. You don't get such kind of starts every time in international cricket. The more you convert your fifties into hundreds, the better it is. Today was a golden opportunity for me to convert my innings. But at the same time as long as the team is winning, I am happy to contribute.
"I was really happy to get to what score I got today. But was unhappy with the way I got dismissed. I thought that I could have taken the team through easily and set up the total, but I was very unfortunate with the way I got out. Hopefully, I will be able to score a century in the next one."
The Mumbai batter, who became the second joint-fastest Indian to score 1000 ODI runs in the first ODI, isn't too concerned about where he stands in the Indian pecking order for a middle-order position in the long run and simply wants to focus on "controlling the controllables."
"Playing in the team is not in my hand. What I can do is train hard off the field and see to it that you know whenever I get the opportunity, I have to maximise it, and that's what I have been doing, Today and the day before yesterday, I got the opportunity to represent my country that I feel is bigger than anything. I gave my 100 per cent, and when I left the field, I had no regrets.
"Hard work off the field always pays off. This is the reflection of what you do off the field. I am working hard because wickets and conditions are changing frequently, and you have to stay fit and keep motivating yourself. My mindset is that I will do my work and try to control the controllable."