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Sunday, October 17, 2021

From No.6 to opener, the transformation of KKR’s Venkatesh Iyer

Former India wicketkeeper and Madhya Pradesh coach Chandrakant Pandit felt he had an X-factor like Yusuf Pathan and made him switch batting positions

Written by Devendra Pandey |
Updated: September 24, 2021 2:47:35 pm
On Thursday, while opening the innings for Kolkata Knight Riders he made a quick-fire half century (53 off 30) against Mumbai Indians to follow up on his unbeaten 41 against RCB (Twitter/KKR)

Former India wicketkeeper and a reputed coach in the domestic circuit Chandrakant Pandit still remembers the day when he decided that the lanky, bearded Venkatesh Iyer will open the innings for Madhya Pradesh in the last season’s Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament. Until then, Iyer was a number six batsman and even he was reluctant when he got the call to go against the new ball but Pandit was convinced.

“He was reluctant, but the way he bats, I felt he has something to change the game. I had done a similar move with Yusuf Pathan in a West Zone game. He too had never opened but I made him do that because somewhere that ability gets wasted down the order,” Pandit told The Indian Express.

Venkatesh Iyer “I think Venky (Venkatesh Iyer), the way he came in and played, was outstanding. Certainly, the brand of cricket we want to play. We have a lot of talent within our group,” Morgan hailed him after match against RCB. (Twitter/KKR)

Pandit put the youngster at ease by assuring him that he won’t be dropped even if he fails as an opener.

“I told Iyer that even if he gets 0 in the next five games, he will still retain his place in the side.” That turned the tide, and Iyer hasn’t looked back since.

Pandit also suggested a batting tweak that has proved to be a game-changer for Iyer.

“He has a different bat speed and plays with power. Earlier, his bat used to come a lot higher, from above his head. I told him that in domestic cricket, he won’t face any problem but at a higher level, it will create a problem. So now his bat comes from near waist height,” Pandit added.

On Thursday, while opening the innings for Kolkata Knight Riders he made a quick-fire half century (53 off 30) against Mumbai Indians to follow up on his unbeaten 41 against RCB. Before being under the IPL spotlight, Iyer was making waves on the domestic circuit.

In the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Iyer blasted 227 runs in five innings at a strike rate of 149.34. Later in the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy, Iyer continued with his form, walloping 198 in 146 balls against Punjab.

That knock got everyone’s attention, soon he was asked to fly to Mumbai for the trials for Kolkata Knight Riders. And he was signed up by the franchise.

Iyer’s close friend, the former Madhya Pradesh seamer Anand Rajan recalls the time when Iyer had to make one of the most difficult decisions of his life. A well known multi-national company had offered a huge paycheque to join them in Hyderabad. Iyer was still wondering whether he had it in him to make it at the big stage. He was 25 then, with an MBA in finance degree behind him.

“He was in two minds about his next step. He was eager to continue cricket and decided to continue with the sport and felt job offers can wait for now. He is very clear in his thought process, which is rare in this generation. His clear head helps him to make the right decisions. He has a plan B, which is his job going ahead,” Rajan said.

He has juggled to keep both plans at play. Like, this one time, on the day of an internal exam during his MBA, his state team was playing a practice game against Chhattisgarh. He decided to do both. He finished the exam and went straight to play the game. That game proved crucial as he hit a hundred and got a call to represent Madhya Pradesh’s Ranji Trophy team. He also cleared that exam.

Pandit said Iyer was getting a touch frustrated during the first leg of IPL as he was benched. ”He called me and said sitting outside was getting tough. I told him you will learn from sitting out, so wait, wait for your chance,” Pandit said. And when it came, he has launched the white ball and himself into the public imagination.

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