BENGALURU: As KL Rahul whipped a Paul van Meekeren delivery, Roelof van der Merwe watched in awe – with mouth agape – as the ball rocketed into the stands towards backward point.
Van der Merwe’s reaction was akin to what resonated at the M Chinnaswamy stadium on Sunday night as Rahul and Shreyas Iyertook the Netherlands’ bowlers to the cleaners during their 208-run association for the third wicket.The partnership was contrasting in style but complementing in flair.Rahul’s 64-ball 102 (11×4; 4×6) was soaked in classicism, while flamboyance was Iyer’s style statement on the day. That said, the commonality in their innings came from their exhibition of hunger and desire. Considering both were coming off mediocre performances in the last few games, they needed to get it right in the dress rehearsal ahead of the semifinals against New Zealand.
Their centuries may have come against a weak opposition, but they got to the three-figure mark, which three players before them – Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill and Virat Kohli – failed.
The numbers today are an endorsement for the team management’s faith in the middle-order duo, who made a timely recovery from injuries – which necessitated surgeries – for the marquee event.
On the eve of the match, India head coach Rahul Dravid, backing Iyer, said, “Right from his India ‘A’ days when I coached the team, one of the things that really stood out about Shreyas was his temperament and the way he handles success and failure. Some of his knocks have brought out the best in him in pressure situations. His mental strength is what has held him in really good stead. He’s terrific temperamentally. When someone like him does well, you know he’s going to make big contributions.”
The batting stalwart’s words resonated in Iyer’s near-perfect innings. Iyer waited out the first nine balls he faced before finding the gap for a boundary, he didn’t get his timing right, so he waited out another 12 deliveries before Van Meekeran invited the batter’s wrath with an outside-off delivery which whizzed through mid-off.
A drop shot here, a lofted drive there and a delectable cut through point, Iyer’s innings was unapologetically brutal, in the second half.
Rahul, backed by his home crowd, didn’t go slam-bang from ball one. He came with a game plan and stuck to it irrespective of the blemishes in the opposition’s bowling. The back-foot play was textbook quality and the timing impeccable as a majority of his runs came behind the wickets.
“Haven’t got a lot of time (in the middle) in the last two games. So, it was nice to get some time. Batting at No. 5, it’s important to get that confidence, it was a good knock. Getting that confidence to hit sixes towards the end was important. Tried to get as many runs as possible, that was the plan. The ball gets softer, so hitting sixes at the back end becomes difficult,” said the Indian vice-captain after his innings.