Men’s ODI WC: Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul – the fulcrum of India’s middle-order fortunes

Bengaluru: India’s KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer celebrate their partnership during the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 match between India and Netherlands, at M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, Sunday, November 12, 2023. (Photo: IANS/Dhananjay Yadav)

Niharika Raina

Mumbai, Nov 14 (IANS) Two right-handed batters, two journeys on recovery from injuries and one role which they have been fulfilling to the T in the ongoing Men’s ODI World Cup – of being the fulcrum of India’s middle-order batting fortunes.

In these nine matches, fans must have realised how much value Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul have added to the hosts’ unbeaten streak, adding more wings to India’s ten-year-old quest of clinching the trophy on home soil.

If Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill and Virat Kohli have been the top-order run-getters, Iyer and Rahul are the steely men of this batting order who have shown that they are ready to step up if needed in any scenario. The presence of Iyer and Rahul in 2023 is complete opposite of what transpired during 2019 World Cup in England.

In the 2015-19 cycle, unsettled was the term which was used to describe the middle-order musical chairs. Ambati Rayudu was shaping up to be the number four, before his sudden loss of form in series against Australia gave a ticket to the squad to Vijay Shankar. Till the game against Australia, Rahul was in middle-order till the tournament-ending thumb injury to Shikhar Dhawan took him to the opening spot.

India again began to play Russian roulette with Shankar, MS Dhoni and Rishabh Pant, with Dinesh Karthik joining in too, as middle-order muddle meant the two-time champions ended on the losing side to old foes New Zealand. If 2019 was marked by lack of clarity and unsettled middle-order, 2023 is all what was required – clarity and sortedness.

After the tournament, Rahul and Iyer emerged to be the middle-order mainstays for India before injuries threatened to bring India back to where they were in 2019. Before this World Cup, Rahul was down with a right thigh injury, leaving him with a torn tendon which needed surgery and initial time on crutches.

At the same time, Iyer was laid low by a slip disc, which compressed the nerve and the pain went all the way down to the bottom of his tiny toe. There was more nervousness in make-up of India’s middle-order when Rahul missed Asia Cup group stage due to a niggle, while Iyer’s stint was cut short by back spasms.

Thankfully, Rahul came back with a hundred on return against Pakistan as India went all the way to the title, while Iyer was back from the series against Australia and got a hundred at Indore. By the time India’s first game at World Cup arrived, the middle-order was locked and loaded with Iyer, Rahul and Hardik Pandya.

“How well your middle order performs in sometimes very tricky conditions and challenging situations under pressure, is actually going to probably decide how well you do. While our top orders also performed exceptionally well. I think our middle orders played very critical roles. Sometimes you can’t judge them by sheer numbers.”

“It’s obvious that when you look at a leaderboard of scores and runs, it’ll always be someone in the top three. I mean, it’s pretty obvious. You look at that whole board and It’s all filled with guys from any country who are in the top three. So that only gives you one half of the picture, but it’s actually some of those 30s, 40s, critical knocks,” said head coach Rahul Dravid in praise of middle-order ahead of the match against Netherlands in Bengaluru.

Rahul’s contributing run began with a match-winning, unbeaten 97 against Australia at Chennai, and more importantly putting 165 runs with Kohli to stage a rescue act from 2/3. He the finished off the game against Bangladesh, apart from sharing a crucial 91-run stand on a tricky Lucknow pitch with Rohit against England.

Rahul has shown in this World Cup that he can weather a storm, and play the situation (like he did in Chennai), before accelerating towards the end, which he did when smashing a 62-ball century against the Netherlands in Bengaluru, the fastest by an Indian batter in history of Men’s ODI World Cup, apart from being safe as houses with wicketkeeping duties.

Whenever Rahul has played the late cut, square cut, flick or even the pick-up short, Rahul has looked like a billion bucks. As per the statistics provided by, out of Rahul’s 347 runs in eight innings in this World Cup, 54 runs have come off the square cut, 12 runs each have come from flick and pick-up shot, with the late cut fetching him 10 runs.

On the other hand, Iyer was slow to begin, but in the last three games – making 82, 77 and 128 not out – he’s showed of him truly coming into his own. His ability to shift gears and become the counterpunching guy with calculative risk-taking options while constructing his innings with elan against pace and spin alike is a golden quality to have in a middle-order batter.

When Iyer suffered back-to-back dismissals against the short ball, where he was cramped for room on the pull, and miscued it, the talk of his weakness again began to gather steam. But numbers from tell that Iyer has a strike-rate of 129 against short ball in this World Cup, while amassing 90 runs off 69 balls.

Moreover, while smashing his first World Cup century, Iyer also showed willingness to make a technical change in the middle of an important tournament and make himself better. Former India cricketer Mohammad Kaif noticed on Hindi commentary duties that Iyer had changed his backlift, while doing a split-screen analysis of images from game against England and here against Netherlands.

His backlift used to be near his head. Now, he’s got the backlift behind his body, which makes it easier for him to execute the pull and due to this, the downswing becomes faster. This change has come timely for him.”

“In the match against England, he was holding the bat vertically up, meaning he would get cramped on the pull and affected his bat swing. This also meant he was wasting precious time.”

“Here against Netherlands, the backlift would come from gully and that has resulted in him looking much more in control, something which has been happening from the last game. In his pulls here, he has not mistimed any of those.”

“When the backlift is small, he’s able to finish the downswing on the pull properly. Playing the pull shot was his weakness and bowlers would bounce him out. But now he’s looking in proper control,” observed Kaif.

The memories of India slumping to an 18-run loss to New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup semi-final are very difficult to wipe it off the mind completely. Come Wednesday, at the Wankhede Stadium, India and New Zealand will again square off in a World Cup semi-final.

But this time there’s a change in the fulcrum of India’s batting. Its middle order, with Rahul and Iyer, has a sorted steely vibe this time, giving fans sporting a sea of blue in the stadium hope to make a change in the result from 2019.

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