On a night when Rinku Singh deservingly grabbed the headlines for pulling off a once in a lifetime final over chase, the Knights coaching staff would be extremely satisfied with Venkatesh Iyer’s personal best - 83 0f 40 balls, earlier in the innings which revived KKR’s run chase after losing our openers in quick succesion. The talented southpaw possesses the ability to single handedly take games away from the opposition, a characteristic that first brought him into the limelight after his exploits in the UAE in 2021.
Venkatesh, hailing from Indore, took to cricket at an early age inspired by his idol Sourav Ganguly. He always wanted to make a name for himself as an attacking batsman and loved hitting the ball out of the park as a child. His parents, particularly his mother, realised that Venkatesh harboured an intense passion for the game and supported him through his journey. On the domestic circuit, Venkatesh credits his early rise to his club coach Dinesh Sharma, who he felt went out of the way to help him realise his potential. Before being picked by KKR for the 2021 IPL, the Indore based Southpaw was steadily making a name for himself in the domestic circuit, particularly in the limited over formats. His innings of 198 off 146 balls against Punjab in the Vijay Hazare Trophy (2020-21) proved to be the defining moment in his career, as he started drawing the attention of several IPL teams after the memorable innings. Interestingly, if not for his decisions to first skip the CA finals and then turn down a job from a major corporate, after completing his MBA in Finance, Venkatesh’s life could have gone down on a completely alternate career path. His primary focus was always to make it as a cricketer and everything else was just a safety net incase PLAN A failed.
Venkatesh grabbed his chances in the 2021 IPL with both hands and how! His heroics in the UAE leg of the IPL season, where he scored 370 runs in 10 matches at an average of 41.11 and 4 fifties, powered KKR to a runner up finish. Post the final, Iyer got to meet the man who inspired him to take up cricket and become a left-handed batsman - Sourav Ganguly! In a brief conversation with Venkatesh, the former India and Knights Skipper, Sourav advised the former to focus on the process and not the results, as results would follow if he worked hard on his game and stayed true to the process. Shortly after, the BCCI asked him to stay back in the UAE to assist the national team’s preparation for the 2021 T20 World Cup, a testament to the impact he had made in such a short time.
Venkatesh who made his mark in KKR as an opener was soon called up to the national side, where he was entrusted to play the finisher’s role. The stint with the national team served him well and Venkatesh Iyer was all praise for skipper Rohit Sharma and Coach Rahul Dravid who he felt, backed him to deliver the goods during his time with the national team. Venkatesh played the finisher’s role to varying degrees of success, scoring 133 runs at a strike rate of 162 in 7 innings, coming on late to finish the games.
With having the chance of making it to the Indian T20 squad for the 2022 T20 World Cup, Venkatesh looked at his dominant best at the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in 2022, with scores of 62*, 57, 42 and 28. At the time Venkatesh had shared that Knights Coach Chandrakant Pandit, with whom he had previously worked with in the Madhya Pradesh Ranji setup, had spoken to him and asked him to show everyone out there that he can bat anywhere in the batting order and perform. Unfortunately, a freak injury cut short his return to form and the chance of making the trip to Australia.
Venkatesh tripped on a staircase, twisted his ankle and suffered a socket dislocation. The injury required immediate surgery and ruled him out for a number of months. A disappointed Venkatesh, faced a lengthy spell on the sidelines and a race to make it to full fitness before the IPL. A stint at the NCA, where he worked hard on his fitness saw him return to the KKR fold right in time for the 15th edition of the IPL.
In 2 of the 3 matches so far, the Knights think tank has utilised Iyer as an impact substitute, choosing as a batter. On Sunday, scored 83 runs with a strike rate of over 200. What was even more impressive, was that he was in control of 90% of the shots he played on the night which is an incredible feat in the ‘smash and grab’ format of the game.
Praising Coach Chandrakant Pandit, Venkatesh Iyer remarked that the KKR coach has given him absolute clarity on the role he expects him to play in the batting order and this has helped him a lot. Speaking in a post match interview, Venkatesh said “Tonight, I just wanted to go out there and execute my game plan of playing the ball late. Their bowlers were quick and I tried to use their pace to my advantage.” He also shared that the Knights are bonding like a family in the dressing room and it pleases him the most to see Coach Chandrakant succeeding in stitching together a unit that has looked formidable in this edition of the IPL. Having found form early in the tournament, Venkatesh will now look to continue building his form and help the Knights in their bid for the 3rd IPL title this season.