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Shreyas Iyer leads from the front

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Shreyas_Iyer_India_Delhi_Daredevils_IPL_CricketWhen the huge responsibility of captaincy is placed on the shoulders of a young player, the result can go one of two ways. One might see the player succumb to the burden, which was the case of Aiden Markram during the recent ODI series against India. Or one might see the pride of being in charge boost the player's morale, bringing out the best in him, which was the case of Delhi Daredevils’ new captain Shreyas Iyer.

Delhi's losing streak was a matter of concern for the side in the ongoing 2018 edition of Indian Premier League (IPL). They were one of the two bottom teams to have lost five out of the six matches they had played prior to the home game against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) on Friday. More worrying was the poor form of their captain Gautam Gambhir, who had failed to even reach the 20-run mark after his half-century in Delhi's opening game against Kings XI Punjab. On the eve of their must-win match against KKR, Gambhir shocked his fans when he stepped down from captaincy.

Delhi was lucky to already have a promising young captain in the side in the form of Shreyas Santosh Iyer. He was the fearless, fresh and buoyant leader Delhi was looking for. When IPL 2018 began, Iyer, like Gambhir, had been struggling for form. His highest score was 27 in the first four matches before he finally hit a vein of form in Delhi's 5th and 6th matches. Going into the crucial game against KKR, Iyer had two back-to-back fifties to his name. But more than that, he had the pressure of suddenly being looked on as Delhi's saviour.

Certainly, Iyer would have had several questions pounding in his head: about his form, about the necessity to deliver without fail. Now that he was the captain and then there was a tricky question about his predecessor, "Should Gambhir be in the team?" Iyer had the solutions. Firstly, Gambhir made things easy for the young captain by dropping himself for the KKR match.

No matter whatever would happen, Iyer had decided to control the pressure of captaincy. After all, it was not the first time he was going to lead a side. It certainly was his first match as a captain in an official match, but his past experiences of leading a few teams during his junior days would have helped for sure.

 

It was not surprising that Delhi picked Iyer to lead the side for the rest of IPL 2018. Ever since his Under-16 days, his coaches had found in him a number of vital leadership qualities. Iyer took his first steps into professional cricket in the early 2000s and soon realised that a lot of graft was required to convert into reality his dream of becoming a professional cricketer.

 

His most torrid years so far have been the two years of Under-16 cricket. He wasn't scoring runs. The selectors were unhappy with his style of over-attacking, which only fetched him scores in 30s-40s but not big knocks. Even during the trials of Under-16, Iyer failed to score enough runs and did not get selected.

However, that's when Vinod Raghavan was selected as the U-16's coach. He still is known for bringing about the transformation that pulled Iyer out of that bad patch. Former India and Mumbai wicketkeeper-batsman Chandrakant Pandit was Mumbai's selector. Under-16 Coach Vinod had insisted Pandit consider selecting Iyer. Vinod showed faith in Iyer, saying that he was just going through a lean patch but he had the potential to become an extraordinary cricketer.

Not just the selection, Vinod even went on to name Iyer the captain of one of Mumbai's Under-16 teams in the absence of the more established players. "We went for a boot camp and I had seen him when the established players of Under-16 were not around. He was asked to lead one side. You know, I could see the transformation in him. His body language had totally changed and it was visible that he liked responsibility," Vinod said.

 

"His body language changed. He liked responsibility."

 

These words stand intact even now. A few years have passed since that moment and now Iyer is an Indian cricketer. His discipline in the game has not changed one bit.

Since Gambhir had dropped himself, Iyer chose to bring in New Zealand's Colin Munro at the top, who could give Delhi a desired start. Munro smashed an 18-ball 33 and put up an opening stand of 59 runs with Prithvi Shaw - Delhi's highest opening stand in IPL 2018.

After the dismissal of Munro at 59 for 1, Iyer walked in at No. 3 and backed his ability to hit at that position. He started his innings slow before gradually raising the tempo so much that he ended up accumulating 28 runs off the final over. He hit 10 sixes, four in the final over, powering Delhi to 219, the biggest total of the season.

In the course of that match, Iyer became the first captain to hit 10 sixes in an IPL innings and the first Delhi player to hit 10 sixes in an IPL innings. Iyer's cracking 40-ball 93 was the driving force behind Delhi's morale-boosting win. The youngest captain of IPL, though, insisted that it was purely a team effort:

"We indeed got a good start. Everyone was aware of what they had to do and contributed really well. It was a team effort. It wasn't an individual game. Everyone stepped up to the mark and started taking responsibility," he said after Delhi's 55-run win at home.

In addition to the Under-16s, Iyer had led the Indian Board President's XI against a full-strength New Zealand side, winning one List A match and losing the other. He is not completely a rookie in the leadership department. With seven more matches to go in IPL 2018 before the play-offs, Delhi will hope Iyer & Co. can carry this momentum forward in the tournament.

 

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