Delhi Capitals captain Shreyas Iyer reacts in jubilation after scoring winning runs during VIVO IPL cricket T20 match against Kings XI Punjab in New Delhi, India. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: From an intense looking youngster who stepped into the shoes of the mighty Gautam Gambhir as Delhi Dardevils captain in the middle of the Indian Premier League last year, Shreyas Iyer is now smiling again. The winds of change seem to be finally blowing for the re-named franchise in IPL

2019 and Iyer, the youngest captain in the league at the moment, is pleased at the “sense of belief” among the squad this season.

The Feroz Shah Kotla-based team, who last made the play-offs in 2012 before plummeting to a number of indifferent seasons over the last few years, look well-poised to make the last four again with seven wins from 11 matches. They have a few days of well-deserved break before they resume the campaign against a resurgent Royal Challengers Bangalore on Sunday at home, but Iyer feels the team is in a good mental space now.

Speaking to Gulf News exclusively from India as to what made the difference this year, Iyer said: “I’ve been asked this question several times, and I think it’s tough to pinpoint it to one reason.

“There’s so much around us that’s new — jersey, name, a few players, management.

“And all that newness has helped us with a sense of belief that we can do better than previous seasons. Last year, there were more injuries as well among the bowlers, this year unfortunately we have lost Harshal (Patel) to an injury, but the rest of us have been fit and raring to go.”

If a USP of this year’s Delhi team is that the top order boasts of the cream of India’s generation-next batting talent in Prithvi Shaw, Iyer and Rishabh Pant, senior pro Shikhar Dhawan has also rediscovered his mojo — being in the chase for the Orange Cap with 401 runs to date. The cricket media has also been quite abuzz with the mentoring roles being played by head coach Ricky Ponting and adviser Sourav Ganguly.

Asked how does he go about his job in the presence of such heavyweights, Iyer says: “It’s actually a privilege to be around these people. And even though they are all really big names in the sport, be it Shikhar Dhawan, or Ganguly or Ponting — everybody gives me the freedom to work around the team the way I’d want to. And, of course, they are all always available to answer any questions and help me out with any decision making.”

Did you know?
Shreyas Iyer holds the record of the highest T20 score by an Indian batsman — 147 — which he scored for Mumbai against Sikkim in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in February this year. He scored it off 55 balls in India’s premier domestic T20 tournament, which helped Mumbai win the match by a whopping 154 runs. Iyer, incidentally, overtook Delhi teammate Rishabh Pant’s record, who has scored 128 for Delhi Daredevils in the IPL.

Only 24, Iyer can be somewhat deceptive in his boyish looks as he carries the in-built resilience of the Mumbai cricketer — a factor he admits has helped him handle the challenge of the captaincy suddenly thrust upon him. “Yes, the captaincy stints for Mumbai and India A definitely helped me to a large extent. Last year, I wasn’t exactly prepared for it but even though the role came to me all of a sudden, I did my best and I think I didn’t do too badly. This year, I am honoured that the management considered me for the role for the full season. It helped me prepare mentally,” he said.

Looking beyond the IPL, Iyer’s ambitions to wear the national colours have been a bit chequered as he made the cut in white-ball cricket back in

2015 for a brief stint — before being dumped altogether. As the national debate for India’s No. 4 spot for the World Cup raged some time back, Iyer’s name was again on the radar — but the batsman chose not to lose sleep over it.

“I was asked so many times before the IPL started if I was eyeing a World Cup spot, the No. 4 spot was still open etc… But the World Cup was never on my mind. Right now the gameplan is only to win the IPL for Delhi Capitals. I take one tournament at a time, and that gives me clarity in my game and captaincy,” he said.

Fair enough, but what’s the long-term goal, which keeps him going?

“Well, I guess it’s been quite a journey already for me. The mantra is quite simple — keep going, and never give up. For me it’s not hard training, it’s smart training. And I’m sure I’ll be rewarded for it,” he added.