When Hardik Pandya was recovering from a back injury, Venkatesh Iyer was the all-rounder to fill Pandya’s shoes. After an impressive run with Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in the second half of IPL 2021, Iyer forced his way into the Indian cricket team and played as many as nine T20Is and two ODIs for the country before being dropped. Pandya’s injury confirmed return revealed Iyer’s chances of a comeback and he returned to domestic action in his home state, Madhya Pradesh.
The 27-year-old started the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy strongly – 62* and 6/20 against Rajasthan – and followed it up with scores of 57, 42 and 28 in the next three matches. I’er was building momentum, but a strange injury got in the way of his good run. He tripped, sprained his ankle, and had surgery on himself.
The domestic season is over for Iyer, but he hopes to return to action early next year and wants to return to the Indian dressing room.
In an exclusive conversation with Cricketnext.com from Bengaluru, where he is undergoing rehabilitation at the National cricket Academy (NCA), Iyer spoke about his debut, opening and finishing playing roles, working with Chandrakant Pandit, and the disappointment of missing the coach in the recently concluded T20 World Cup.
What happened to the ankle?
I just stumbled down the stairs, and I kind of sprained it (ankle). The socket came out completely… (ankle) was in bad shape but the surgery went well and it should be fine. The rehabilitation process is going well, and I am starting to walk again step by step. Hopefully it will be fine in a few months.
Fast-tracked into the Indian cricket team after a great half of the IPL, things moved really fast…
Whenever you get the chance to represent your country, I mean, there is nothing more special than that. I am really fortunate to have had this opportunity to do so. I also look at it as something that gave me a path to do. Now it’s up to me again to get back on that road and back to the Indian team. It is really fortunate for me to have the opportunity to participate for the first time in India.
How did you adapt to the different roles? Batting at the top of the KKR standings and then finishing the innings for India?
I think the transition to the top was kind of tough. I’ve hit in the middle order almost my entire life. She hit a long time in the MP team’s middle order. The middle order is where I felt at home but the opening was the hardest. But thanks to the local setting, I got to experience what it was like to open and play on different surfaces. And once you are mentally prepared and mentally accept that you are going to open up or play the terminator, the body reacts to it.
But it’s a completely different ball game. Both are very different roles and require different skill sets…
Yes, it is very different. The skill set of the Opener and the Finisher. But once you are clear in your mind about where and how you need to hit, it becomes much easier. And above that, when you get the support of a coach and leader. Also when the role is communicated to you with utmost clarity, you just step out and put on your best foot without worrying about outside noise. The way I was supported, the way things were communicated to me… I felt at home and I felt like this was not new territory for me.
What was the communication like when you got on the team? Have you been told about the role of a designer?
When I joined the team, I looked at the team and saw three editorials already there. Rohit BhaiKishan and Rahul were already there. So I knew I wouldn’t open. And then when I met Rahul sir and asked how I used to approach innings when I was opening, I was told I would play the striker role. When someone gives you a new role, they also give you a cushion. This was done. Rohit Bhai And Rahul sir told me that I will be given a series of games to try out for the role. And once you have the support of the captain and coach, the job becomes easier.
In the nine T20 matches I’ve played in, I’ve only played in four. This is also not the entire quote. Did you feel uncomfortable during India job assignment?
To be honest, I felt a little deflated. But when I think about it from the captain’s point of view, and I’ve captained my state teams in the past, you know when the five bowlers do the job, it’s not really necessary to use the sixth bowling option. It’s a great cushion, but when five bowlers do the job the captain needn’t look at the sixth bowling option. This is what Rohit is Bhai she did. From an individual standpoint, I’d like to bat 20 overs and throw the 4 overs but that’s not really possible.
Are you disappointed by the abrupt end to your stint with Team India?
Who wouldn’t want to run a long distance for the Indian national team? Although I wanted to, I clearly understood Hardik’s method Bhai is back. What he did was really amazing. Every team wants to choose the best team for the World Cup. I wanted to be there, but again not in my hands. I’ve always looked at cricket as an opportunity. If I’m not playing for the Indian cricket team, this is my chance to play in the Indian Premier League or represent a state side in domestic competitions. My job is to just do my process right and not worry about choosing. I could have been in the team for the ongoing T20s and ODIs, but unfortunately, I had an injury. I will ensure that when I start playing I will do my best and not worry about anything else.
Was management in contact with you during your time away from the team? How was the equation?
I was in contact with many players. I knew what I had to do to get back into the team. It may be batting, bowling or pitching – everything. (running) it better never stop. I was told to be ready. And as I told you, our preparation is so good that if not India, then IPL, if not IPL, then domestic competitions, if not them – then domestic ones. This will never end and I feel very fortunate to be working this way.
Is Venkatesh Iyer mentally and technically ready to continue playing the leading scorer and opener role for his country and IPL team?
Of course! As a professional cricketer you always have to be flexible and I always look at pressures and situations like perks. Lots of people in the country and I’m going to do a certain thing. This is a privilege for me. As a player, you just want to get out there and contribute to your class. That’s it. Whether it is in the end, whether it is opening roles. Be it bowling or a playground or something. I try to accept it in my mind first. If you accept it in the mind, the body just follows it. The problem occurs when you don’t accept it in the first place. I’ve always accepted the fact that I can float up and down at any time. In the Mushtaq Ali Trophy, she played three matches and batted at three different centers – No. 3 in one, No. 4 in one and No. 5 in one.
Was it a conscious invitation to try different things during the Syed Mushtaq Ali Cup? Like the bat in different locations or did it kind of happen due to the game situation and requirements?
A little bit of both to be honest. Just before the tournament, Mr. Chandu (Chandrakant Pandit) talked to me about showing the world how versatile my skills are while hitting in different positions. If I hadn’t injured my leg, I would have been open in the next game. That was really cool and I felt really good. He scored in all matches. This shows that I can strike in different situations. And seeing the performance doesn’t really matter even if I don’t score in those games, but if I make an effort to participate and play a certain role, that in itself is a victory for me.
How excited are you to reunite with Chandrakant Pandit at KKR now?
It will just be a continuation of what is happening now. Chandu sir is our home coach, he has worked in all aspects of our game. From sides of the field to batting style. I am so happy that someone of his stature, who has dominated domestic cricket for so long, has finally been able to showcase his skills at IPL level. I’m really excited from that standpoint, and like everyone else, I’m excited about how he’s going to take charge of KKR. To be honest, I can’t wait for the IPL.
What time frame were you looking for to return to work?
I don’t really look at a time frame because it’s my left leg and it will bear 10-15 times my body weight when I’m doing a squat. I am so fortunate to have access to treatment and facilities here at NCA. They didn’t set a timeline because doing so would add pressure on me. I’m really hopeful about getting back on the field sometime in January. But I feel February might be a good time to start.
The 2024 mission has started well and truly for the Indian cricket team. Have you made it your aim/goal to get back into cricket?
of course not. Right now my only focus is on going to the gym and doing whatever exercises I’m told. I don’t look at things too far. When I was called up to join the Indian cricket team, I felt I could play in the World Cup and then I wasn’t there. This really hurts me. I don’t want to put myself in a position to think about something that is really very far from me. If things happen, they will. The only thing in my hand is to stick to this process and get better every day and leave the rest to God.