Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - A studious rise: the making of Venkatesh Iyer. Venkatesh Iyer pulverised the RCB bowlers on IPL debut and followed it up with a 30-ball 53 to help his side register a rare win over MI.
Venkatesh Iyer pulverised the RCB bowlers on IPL debut and followed it up with a 30-ball 53 to help his side register a rare win over MI.
Harbhajan Singh might not be a regular member of Kolkata Knight Riders' line-up but has had important duties as the mentor of a young man who's described by those close to him as calm-headed and studious.
It was Singh who felt that Venkatesh Iyer could learn a few lessons from Virat Kohli, and arranged for a chat between the two after the game against RCB. Apart from the fact that he could pick the brains of arguably the finest batsman currently, Venkatesh thoroughly enjoys analysing the details of the game deeply.
He is nerdy, and in Madhya Pradesh, where he has grown up, his coaches slot his habit in the stereotype of ‘typically south Indian'.
His batting comes across as an alter ego of the personality off the field. His game though is built on big bat swing, limited foot movement, aggressive intent and bludgeoning the ball. McCullum-esque. Morgan-esque. A style of batting that fits in naturally with KKR's leadership setup.
Venkatesh pulverised the Royal Challengers Bangalore bowlers on IPL debut, scoring an unbeaten 27-ball 41 to help KKR overhaul the 93-run target in only 10 overs. He followed it up with a 30-ball 53 to help his side register a rare win over Mumbai Indians.
His club coach, Dinesh Sharma, was unsurprised by his performances but was yet delighted, “The confidence with which he slammed a first ball six off Trent Boult… Mazaa aa gaya.”
So comfortable has Venkatesh looked in the first two games that a significant change to his bat has seemingly not bothered him as much as it should.
A 6foot 4inch body frame – the kind that is large enough not to be dwarfed by his idol and closest pal Andre Russell – has come with its disadvantages. To make up for one of it, he has had to use cricket bats with a body one inch longer than usual for most parts of his senior cricket career.
A four-year association with the bat manufacturer BAS Vampire had worked out well enough for him to score runs that would help him bag an IPL contract. However, a bigger money deal from SS (Sareen Sports Industries), only a few days before the KKR camp began in March earlier this year, meant that he had to switch allegiance, and with it, play with a bat that he hasn't had too much time to acclimatize to.
It has done little to change his method or the results of it.
His aggressive approach has got him success, which includes a 198 in a 50-over game against a Punjab attack comprising Sandeep Sharma, Siddharth Kaul, Mayank Markande, Barinder Sran and Harpreet Brar. It has also been equally responsible for his inconsistencies – which has resulted in his delayed progress.
Brendon McCullum, KKR's head coach, has identified that issue and yet backed Venkatesh. “He's one of those players who might end up being a little bit inconsistent. With the way he plays, the stroke-making he possesses, but he's got the ability to win games on his own when he's on,” he had said. “He might be one of those who goes 100, 100, 0 and 0 – the Adam Gilchrist sort of players. He's highly intelligent as well for someone who is relatively inexperienced.”
The wait though, to get that backing has been long. Having been picked by an IPL franchise at the age of 26, he was almost set to play before the tournament halted abruptly due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in April.
He wasn't sure when his next opportunity would come, His mother, Usha, too had the same question for him all along “When will they pick you?”
It was Harbhajan Singh who felt that Venkatesh Iyer could learn a few lessons from Virat Kohli, and arranged for a chat between the two after the game against RCB
“Two days before the game, I asked him again (when will he be picked),” Usha says of the conversation with her son.
Whether out of frustration or uncertainty, Venkatesh didn't have much to say even though he had a fair idea of the opportunity coming his way.
“Don't keep asking mummy, I can't tell you anything. Joh bhi ho, aap dekh lena,” he responded.
When he eventually made his debut, his name wasn't announced at the toss. Usha, an administrative assistant at the Apollo Hospital in Indore, had assumed her son wasn't playing when she headed home from work.
It was only upon reaching home that she got the news. It made her nervous. Pacing around in her house throughout his innings, she remembered a conversation with a taxi driver she had met when her son was only seven months old, on her journey from Bhopal to Dewas.
“I was in the front seat and the taxi driver kept looking at him. When we were getting off, he told me ‘yeh apka naam bahut roshan karega, aapko isko jo bhi karna hai, karne dena' (he's going to make you very proud, just back him in whatever he wants to do).”
It was a conversation that didn't merit much thought, but it has stayed with her all these years. There have been several times through all these years when she has found herself in a fix – whether to let Venkatesh pursue sports or ensure that he focused on his academics.
Usha had figured out Venkatesh's interest in the sport when he was 11. “Once India and Australia were playing. When Ganguly got out, he was so upset that eventually, he got a fever. That's when I felt he was too involved in cricket. I told him that till he turned 18, I would support him. But after that, he had to drive his career.”
The fear that cricket might hamper his education was as worrying for Usha as the thought of answering the relatives of the choices she was making for her son.
“For us, there are two musts – you must study and you must have a [stable] job,” she says. “Udyogam purusha lakshanam (doing a job is the duty of a man) is a saying. When a child is born, you keep thinking about what you want the child to do. I couldn't always talk about it with others but I always wanted him to choose a different path. No one in our family was playing sports.”
It was Sanjay Jagdale, the former president of MPCA, who convinced Usha to send her son to play cricket. Venkatesh was eventually enrolled in Khanuja Club in Indore, where he played as a wicketkeeper-batsman under the tutelage of Sheikh Sadiq. The progress through the early years were gradual while the attention wasn't fully taken away from his studies.
In 2014, while playing in an Under-19 competition, Dinesh – a coach at the Maharaja Yeshwantrao Cricket Club (MYCC) – observed him bat. He was convinced that Venkatesh had the talent to reach greater heights. He tried to convince his parents to move him to better clubs and shift his focus entirely towards the game. Usha resisted at first, but after a few weeks, convinced by Dinesh's assurance, moved him to (MYCC), where he also started bowling medium pace.
The move worked wonders. It helped that his employers allowed him to pursue his passion. “Once he got the job, he left his studies and started focusing on cricket.”
Even as he graduated to play for the state team and won them several matches with both bat and ball, he was constantly shuffled around in the line-up till last season when Madhya Pradesh's head coach Chandrakant Pandit promoted him to open the innings . The COVID-19 break though helped him hone his skills after having witnessed how an IPL team functions, and prepare better for the UAE leg.
“He came back and worked even harder with Chandrakant Pandit. Despite the COVID restrictions, they kept practising, working on the game. He rejoined the side with a lot of new ideas on what he could do.”
The two innings by the southpaw in the IPL so far has brought him to the notice of many, but for his coach, some weaknesses of his ward still stand out.
“For the last seven years that I've been coaching him, I've been wanting him to get fitter,” Dinesh says. “Even against Mumbai Indians, it was the cramps that got him. He got tired, couldn't move his legs and got bowled. Hopefully, being around such high-quality players, he will be inspired to work harder on his fitness and become a better player.”