Venkatesh Iyer, the ‘Stephen Fleming clone’ who turned KKR’s season around

0
116


Who is Venkatesh Iyer?

An MBA in Finance and a Rajinikanth fan, as he himself told ESPNcricinfo? Or a swashbuckling opener who has helped Kolkata Knight Riders turn around their IPL campaign? Or a medium-pacer who has been selected as a net bowler for India at the upcoming T20 World Cup?

Of course, he is all of the above, but if Knight Riders’ mentor David Hussey is to be believed Iyer is a Stephen Fleming clone as well.

****

Win the powerplay, win the match. That’s the adage the sluggish Sharjah pitches have given birth to in IPL 2021.

Before Wednesday, the teams that scored more runs in the powerplay won eight out of nine games in Sharjah this season. The reason behind that being once the ball becomes a bit softer and the field spreads out, the run-scoring gets difficult, and whatever teams accumulate in the powerplay proves to be decisive.

Coming into Qualifier 2, both Delhi Capitals and Knight Riders were aware of that.

After Capitals were asked to bat, Shikhar Dhawan and Prithvi Shaw tried to maximise their team’s chances in the powerplay. They took them to 32 for no loss in four overs before Varun Chakravarthy trapped Shaw lbw with his first ball. Marcus Stoinis was sent in at No. 3 to fetch some quick runs but Varun and Lockie Ferguson didn’t let that happen, and Capitals could manage only 38 for 1 in the first six overs.

After that, the Sharjah slowdown set in and Capitals finished with a below-par 135 for 5.

Now it was Shubman Gill and Iyer’s responsibility to give Knight Riders a brisk start. Gill started with a cover drive off the first ball of the chase but after that, it was all Iyer. The left-hander swept R Ashwin behind square leg, launched Axar Patel over wide long-on and caressed Avesh Khan through midwicket. All done with so much ease and nonchalance.

The jaw-dropping shot, however, came against Kagiso Rabada. Rabada didn’t have a great season but he is still Rabada. Iyer, though, jumped out of his crease as if he were facing a dibbly-dobbler in a domestic game. Yes, it was a slower ball but Iyer went through with the shot and dispatched it into the deep-midwicket stands.

Despite Gill scoring only one boundary in the powerplay, Iyer’s assault meant Knight Riders were cruising at 51 for no loss after six overs. That was half the battle won.

Capitals coach Ricky Ponting said as much after the game. “The powerplays in both innings were probably the difference in the game. I don’t think we got enough in our powerplay with the bat. I think we were 37 [38] at the end of our powerplay, which was probably eight to ten runs short of where we wanted to be and what the par score is on this sort of wicket.

“And then the conditions changed dramatically from the first innings to the second innings. Probably the first ten overs of their batting innings when they had a newish ball and the dew was on the ground certainly made batting look a lot easier. The opening stand today for KKR, I thought they did a great job and I think they’ve actually found a really good player there in Venkatesh Iyer. He looks like someone that could be a terrific player for Kolkata and maybe even India in the future.”

By the time Iyer got out, he had steered Knight Riders to 96 in 12.2 overs; his 55 runs off 41 balls were as sublime as they could have been on this pitch.

That left Hussey gushing about him. “He struck the ball superbly from ball one. Some of those big sixes he hit actually changed the tempo of the game and got us into a winning position. He’s just a class player at the top. He is tall, a Stephen Fleming clone, I believe. He’s got a big future in the game.”

****

Iyer wasn’t a starter when IPL 2021 kicked off in India. In fact, he didn’t get a single game back home. But after coming to the UAE, he has scored 320 runs at an average of 40 and a strike rate of 125; only Ruturaj Gaikwad (407) has scored more runs in this period. Iyer is also the only one to have scored a half-century at all three venues – Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi – in the UAE.

At the post-match presentation, he was asked to compare playing domestic cricket in India to plying his trade against the who’s who of world cricket in the IPL.

“There is no difference, I think,” he replied. “I have played the way I wanted to play and I am extremely delighted that the management has asked me to play that way. I don’t see any difference in what happened in the [Syed] Mushtaq Ali [Trophy], and the first-class, and what’s happening here. There is a bit more pressure but if you know how to handle that, this is a wonderful place for all of us to play cricket.

“I think for the past couple of games I was restricting myself. I was just wanting to be there till the end. Then I realised that’s not me. In believing I will be there till the end, I was losing out on the present. So I was wanted to stay in the moment and convert bad balls into boundaries and once I got the momentum, I thought this the way I should go. This is the way have been playing in the IPL and I want to keep it going.”

And what about his call-up as a net bowler for India? Is he pleased with that? “Absolutely but I am not thinking about it. There’s one more game to go and my entire focus is on that game. Of course, I got the news today but I really didn’t give it a lot of thought because [there was] a big match tonight. So I wanted to stay completely focused on it and that will be the case day after as well.”

When asked if his days in a corporate job were over, Iyer didn’t wait for the question to finish. “Absolutely. I don’t wanna go back there.”

He need not because he belongs here.



Source link