The batsman took time out to speak at length with TOI.
Back in great form, back as IPL captain. Great start to the year?
I wouldn’t say the best start, but yes, a decent one.
Why not great?
I had a very bad stomach infection at the start of the year when we were in South Africa. I lost seven kilos there. Basically, whatever I was eating, it was coming out. It was one of the worst phases of my life.
Now, after this Sri Lanka series, do you see yourself getting back into that (New Zealand series) zone again?
Yeah, it felt very good. The start, which I got, was really amazing. I told myself I am just going to play with full freedom because now we have such depth in our batting line-up that it gives us more freedom to go and express ourselves. Even if we are a few runs down, the intent has to be very positive.
You’re looking good at No.3. The confidence has been showing supremely…
Well, it’s a position where you can express yourself the best. But that aside, I’m really enjoying myself right now and feel good about my batting and thorough recovery.
What do you do when you get to hear noises around you which are unnecessarily loud – look, his feet don’t move; look, he’s suspect with the short ball?
I completely respect their personal opinions. It’s their job to say, whatever they see.
You had an exceptional season as captain with Delhi. Then you had to let it go and now you will lead a team again. To come back and reclaim your position, what kind of a lesson does it give you?
I certainly had an amazing flow when I was in Delhi. When I took over, things kept going really well. I was always thinking from a captaincy point of view. How I would make my team win, and how I would contribute in some way to see to it, that maybe we reach a certain position which we haven’t before. So, when you start thinking like a captain, you obviously change your body language, change your perception on the field basically about yourself. So that thing really helped me. And from there onwards it was just about building the team and taking them forward. And again, getting this opportunity to play for KKR and them showing faith in me to become a captain and lead their franchise, I really appreciate that. It’s a great honour for me to lead them.
Between the injury and losing captaincy, which was the bigger low?
Injury. That was a bigger low. If that didn’t happen, they wouldn’t have stepped me down as a captain. At Delhi Capitals, you saw the reflection of the environment at the start of 2021, which we created in 2019 & 20. The atmosphere was amazing. The players knew each other inside out, their strengths and weaknesses. I don’t want to get deeper into it.
The timing of the injury was bad, but these are exactly the kind of things one can’t control. Your thoughts?
Sometimes things just happen for the better. It’s just that we come to know about it later. I was on a roll right in New Zealand and began feeling really confident of myself and my batting. As captain, I had an amazing season going in the IPL and I scored some 500 runs. I was in a good frame of mind and then that injury began playing on my mind.
Forced breaks are never easy because you have to start all over again. Injuries and rehabs are painful. But I must say, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The injury had made me feel I was 50% of the player I otherwise am. Having fully recovered, I’ve come back fresh and feel good. So, whatever happens, happens for good.
How did you do that?
I have very nice surroundings. My parents and friends kept me very motivated at that time. They really helped me to get my focus out of that zone. So, whenever I felt stressed, I used to go and talk with my family, and I have never interacted with them as much as I have done in that break. This was a great time for me to completely cut off from my cricket and have a good time with them. And friends were such amazing help. It was a good space to be in and it completely took my mind away from the injury.
What has rehab taught you?
Patience. I feel after some point, you feel like just giving up because you keep repeating the same routines. You have to do the same exercises, and that part is very irritating. When you wake up the next morning, you feel the same pain. You just keep thinking all the time, and that can be very exhausting. After the surgery, the strength also drops, and there’s muscle loss. You kind of get into that zone when you start thinking and judging yourself if you’ll be back with the same intent and flow. You need to train your mind really hard to get out of that zone each time it threatens to devour you.
(Pic credit: Shreyas Iyer Twitter)
Are you saying that your ability to distract yourself is the most integral part of concentrating?
See, I can’t distract myself from cricket for too long. When I start getting away from it, I can enjoy only like few days. But after that, suddenly I start thinking about cricket again. It’s something that doesn’t let me sleep. Even when I go to sleep, I start dreaming about it. So, when I am trying to drift away from cricket, I have a good time for a maximum of ten days. And then after that, I’m backing into the cricketing zone. That’s why ‘complete breaks’ are really rare.
You have a lot of great professionals around you…
Definitely. Praveen Amre sir helped me a lot after my injury to come back stronger. Rajnikanth (strength & conditioning coach) is the best trainer. He knows my body and what really suits me from a strength and explosiveness point of view. What current athletes need when you play all three formats – he knows inside out. I give a lot of credit to them. They really helped me to come out of the injury as quickly as possible. Also, a few individuals from the NCA helped me out.
Have you moved to that stage where you understand, this is what I need to listen or ignore?
Yeah, I am in that space because you can’t reach this level without facing all these things. There will be noises, no matter whatever you do in your life. You can achieve greatness, or you can become a relentless athlete. But you will keep hearing those noises. To me, it really doesn’t matter. Within, I know what I am, and what I am capable of. At the end of the day, the thing is they are thinking and talking about me. That’s a good thing.
T20 excellence requires a certain state of ‘madness’. You see this team having that bit of ‘madness’?
We have a powerful team right now. That madness is there because if you see the players sitting outside, they are as talented as those in the eleven. They have the potential to come in and perform at any position in any given situation. I feel the madness thrives in us and it is beginning to show.
The level is just too advanced. https://t.co/8QSEqGPMTU
— Shreyas Iyer (@ShreyasIyer15) 1646035488000
Is this the same kind of mindset that you were in New Zealand?
Yeah, just like in New Zealand. The only difference is, back then, I knew my role exactly, the position I’d play in and what was required of me. Currently, what we’re looking at is extreme flexibility. You can be put into various roles, and you need to deliver. That’s the sort of mindset this team is getting into.
A trend in T20 that you are seeing catching on and something you see players rather needing to work on?
The intent. For every ball, you need to think about scoring. As a batsman, I feel if you play a dot ball, it’s a crime. It takes a toll on the batsman. When you said about that West Indies team, with such a line-up that everybody comes up and smashes from the first ball, you really need to set up a great total on the board.
How would you put your test aspirations going forward?
It’s really important that I stay in the present. When you start thinking too much, you get into that questioning mode. Is too much happening around me? Do I need a break? What’s going to happen if I don’t perform? All these thoughts start coming to mind and routines and processes start getting affected. It is the routines and the processes that have really helped me come this far. So, no point thinking, just try to follow the processes every day and take things as they come.
You had a dream start to your test debut. However, even after that, you had to sit out in the next series…
Definitely a dream start it was – a great feeling. I completely understand (when made to sit in the next series) that from the team’s point of view, they wanted to play a senior player in the mix. We were in South Africa, and they wanted someone who was experienced enough to play those conditions. So, I had to sit out. But as I’ve said before, I would have got an opportunity in the second Test, but unfortunately, I had this infection which turned out really bad.
What do you think about Rohit Sharma, the captain?
He is amazing. He thinks from a player’s point of view. He has got that mindset, where he connects to every individual and knows what he needs from support staff and coaches. I really respect him a lot. Obviously, we have played together at the domestic level a lot and I know how he thinks as well. So, it’s a good space to be around.
As a batsman what is it that the bowlers have picked up that’s making your life tough in T20?
From a bowler’s perspective, I think spinners are taking more initiative right now than fast bowlers. If you see the middle phase from 7-14, things are really controlled by the spinners. They know how to bowl today. They mostly go with a flatter trajectory, nothing above eye level. They have become really smart in terms of reading the batsman. Even if you see Roston Chase of the West Indies, he used to flight the ball earlier. Now, he uses that flatter trajectory, which makes it hard for the batsman to hit him. The trend is changing now.
Is there anything more important than the two World Cups and how do you prioritize that?
Yes definitely, whatever we are doing right now is preparing for the World Cup. Basically, our mindset and everything revolves around it. So, whatever we are doing on the field is completely dedicated to the World Cup. The training, the work ethics and everything has improved. The focus has been on it. The World Cup is going to be our main aim so, even for me to gain back my seven kilos which I have lost, it has been a real struggle. But it improved my mindset. It has taught me a lot that you must keep yourself fit and whatever you eat is healthy, and you can’t take anything for granted.
When did you begin to realise, post-rehab, that you’re returning to the space you belong – with the bat, of course?
It’s the strength I am feeling. I mean, when I was in South Africa and I faced the situation, I wasn’t feeling strong at all. Personally, I felt that I wouldn’t even clear thirty yards. And now I feel that even a mistimed shot can land into the stands. So, I am in that kind of mindset.
An aspect of your game that you’re consciously working on…
My fitness has always been my foremost priority. But it’s the mental fitness that’s a bigger priority. When you’re part of a team for long periods of time, so many things happen – you’re in an out of form, battling niggles and injuries, teams keep going through chops and changes. If you need to survive at this stage, you need to be mentally very strong. The mental aspect plays a very important role. I’ve realised, reading books has helped me, keeps me in a very happy space.
What have you been reading lately?
I just finished Relentless for the second time. Now, I’ve picked up this book ‘Winning’ by Tim Grover.