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The rising stocks of India's middle-order


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The stocks are rising for India's middle order, at least as far as the T20I format is concerned. If Suryakumar Yadav was the show-stopper in the T20 matches against West Indies, Shreyas Iyer has proved to be a tough competitor with back-to-back match-winning performances that has now extended India's winning streak in T20Is to eleven matches - just one away from becoming the joint-best for most successive victories.

Suryakumar was the player of the series against West Indies, coming up with match-winning contributions of 34* and 65 in the first and the third T20Is. Shreyas had to wait on the sidelines despite being in the squad, with skipper Rohit Sharma pointing out that the balance of the side was of prime importance. The balance that Rohit spoke about yielded returns as all-rounder Venkatesh Iyer not only came up with important knocks but also proved useful with the ball.

Shreyas's opportunity came in the third T20I against West Indies after Virat Kohli was rested along with Rishabh Pant for a string of games. He scored 25 in the match against the Caribbean side but it was Suryakumar who stole the show with his 31-ball 65, with Venkatesh partnering him in a game-changing stand.

Shreyas scored a half-century against Sri Lanka in the opening T20I, with his 28-ball 57 not out providing the fireworks in the death after Ishan Kishan's 89 set up the platform. He was quick to put his hands up and essayed the role of a finisher after Suryakumar's injury-forced absence from the T20I series against Sri Lanka. But his career-best performance (74* off 44), which came in the second T20I in Dharamsala on Saturday (February 27), was one that showcased maturity as a cricketer who can handle all the pressure coming his way.

India were 44/2 in the sixth over after Sri Lanka posted a challenging total of 183/5, with the visiting team's pacers breathing fire. A 141.5 kph delivery from Dushmantha Chameera had Rohit playing on to the stumps in the opening over. The pacers were finding the edge, beating the beat, and were constantly clocking 140-plus kph. Shreyas was nearly bowled while shuffling and backing away to a Chameera delivery while Kishan, who had gotten off to a decent start, was unsettled by a Lahiru Kumara bouncer which struck him on the helmet and eventually fell to a 145 kph delivery from the same bowler, chipping a catch to mid-on.

Sanju Samson, the batter whose talents were spoken about highly by Rohit before this series, struggled at the start of his innings. At the end of the eighth over, India's scoring rate was only seven and they needed to push on, lest the required rate went beyond their control. Shreyas read the situation and responded. He took on the spinner Praveen Jayawickrama, scoring straight sixes, and later revealed that it was a calculated assault with the ball not spinning much. Still, at the halfway stage, the required rate was 10 an over but Shreyas was up to the task, bringing up a 30-ball fifty with a six off Chamika Karunaratne in the 11th over, followed by another six off Dasun Shanaka. He showcased his shot-making skills, going front and back with confidence to score the four maximums in his innings while he also struck six fours.

Shreyas's fifth four came in the fifth over and his final boundary was only in the 17th. His last six was the one he backed away and cleared the backward point fence off Shanaka in the 12th over. He was on 64 off 36 at the end of the 12th over, and scored only 10 more for the rest of the innings. But he had revived and set the tempo for the chase, and watched from the non-striker's end as first Samson and then Jadeja took the game further away from Sri Lanka.

Samson was on 17 off 19 at the start of the 13th over and was dismissed at the end of it. But it was also the over in which he struck three sixes and a four off Kumara and ended up with 39 off 25. There was Venkatesh in the ranks but Jadeja got a promotion again, with India perhaps keen to get him going with the bat after a long injury break. was unbeaten on 45 off 18, hitting some lovely drives and pulls to pick up seven fours and a six during his stay, as India finished off the chase with 17 balls still remaining.

"We have a lot of talent in that batting unit, we will keep giving them the chances, it's up to them to make the most of it. Lot of these guys are quite talented. They just need an opportunity to go out there and express themselves. There are a lot of guys waiting in the wings as well but their time will come as well. We've got to look after the guys who have been in and around the team for a while. We understand all these guys possess a lot of talent. So it's just about giving the opportunity and the backing from our side," Rohit told Star Sports after the game.

The contributions of Shreyas, Samson and Jadeja in this match spoke as much about the abilities of India's batting reserves as it did about the confidence in handling different situations. After the previous game, Ishan had spoken about India shedding their conservative approach and it was evident in this match as well. India's twin failures in the T20 World Cup, which had a lot to do with the middle-order failures, seems a thing of the past now as India have rich resources to get the job done even if the top order hasn't delivered. Be it Suryakumar, Shreyas, Venkatesh or Jadeja, it's a team bustling with a lot of self-assurance and hunger to prove.

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