The man who played a key role in Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) setting a date with Chennai Super Kings for the final of IPL on Friday, Venkatesh Iyer, is the toast of the season.
An MBA Finance and a Rajinikanth fan, Iyer is a worthy all-rounder, who failed to get a chance in the IPL first leg (in India), but gathered momentum in the second half of the tournament in Dubai-Sharjah and made the most of the opportunities that came his way. This IPL, the southpaw has scored 320 runs at an average of 40 and a strike rate of 125, the second most valuable player after Ruturaj Gaikwad (407). Iyer is also the only batter to score a 50 at all three venues – Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi – in the UAE.
Iyer’s team, KKR, too has effected a turn around. Kolkata could win only two games in the first half of the IPL in India, but came back stronger in the UAE and won five out of the seven encounters.
Opening against Delhi Capitals in the second qualifier on Wednesday (October 13), Iyer teamed up with Shubman Gill to take KKR to 96 in 12.2 overs, chasing a modest score of 135. The lanky left-hander, whom KKR mentor David Hussey calls a “Stephen Fleming clone”, scored an explosive 55 runs off just 41 balls.
Iyer spared none of the Delhi bowlers. He swept R Ashwin behind square leg, punished Axar Patel over wide long-on and caressed Avesh Khan through midwicket. Against Kagiso Rabada, Iyer jumped out of his crease and punished the slower delivery into the deep-midwicket stands.
Delhi Capitals coach Ricky Ponting said, “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.”
KKR mentor Hussey said, “He (Iyer) 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.”
After KKR beat Delhi, Iyer was asked how he compared domestic cricket with IPL. “There is no difference, I think. I have played the way I wanted to play and I am extremely delighted that the management has asked me to play that way.”
On how he approached the second qualifier on Wednesday, Iyer said, “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 just wanted to stay in the moment and convert bad balls into boundaries.”
While his potential with the bat has taken him thus far, Iyer’s talent as a medium-pace bowler has just won him a place in the Indian squad for the T20 World Cup as a net bowler. Iyer said, “I am not thinking about it (T20 World Cup). 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.”
KKR play Chennai Super Kings in the IPL final in Dubai on Friday (October 15).
Venkatesh Iyer belongs to an orthodox South Indian family and hails from Indore. He has played domestic cricket for Madhya Pradesh and is presently a member of the Kolkata Knight Riders franchise. As a young boy, the 26-year-old said his first priority was education. He was good in academics and did his B.Com and then MBA in finance. During graduation, he topped his intermediate exams. He got a lucrative job at an accounting firm in Bengaluru in 2018, but gave up the offer because he wanted to pursue a career in cricket. In fact, it was his mother who encouraged him to focus on the game.
On Wednesday, after his team beat Delhi Capitals, the commentator asked if his days in a corporate job were over, Iyer was quick to respond: “Absolutely. I don’t wanna go back there.”