Venkatesh Iyer has had a rollercoaster last two years that saw him rise rapidly to make his India debut in T20s and ODIs after an excellent IPL in 2021.
However, since January 2022, he has been out of the squad and is trying to forge his way back after a tough year. A freak ankle injury during last year’s Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy forced him out of most of the domestic season before he had a decent IPL for Kolkata Knight Riders, the highlight of which was a century he scored against Mumbai Indians.
The 28-year-old is currently leading the Central Zone in the ongoing Deodhar Trophy and will look to start the new season strongly. “I think last year was perfect for me. Every season can’t go your way. I played for India last year and then had a freak injury. I had to go to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) just to start walking again, doing it for 10-15 minutes. So it taught me a lot,” said Venkatesh.
A middle-order batter, he got his success as an opener in the IPL but played as a finisher for India before becoming a number three this year for KKR. So when asked if he wishes for a particular slot, the Madhya Pradesh player said, “As a batter, I need to be flexible and don’t want to dictate my preference to any team I play for. I want to be the winning factor for my team because individual performances will only take you so far without the team winning. I want to leave it to the team to get the best out of me.”
He is the kind of cricketer India always yearns for - a medium-pace all-rounder. With only a few in the country who fit the bill, it was one reason he got fast-tracked into international cricket. “To contribute in all facets of the game is a challenge, but it is something I look forward to. But I don’t do that with the selection in mind because it will affect my performance. I just look to contribute to the team.”
After slowly recovering from the injury, Venkatesh said he will use this tournament to increase his bowling workload. “I was not 100 percent before the IPL, but I am back on track. It is easier to bowl 10 overs in nets, but in matches, after fielding for 30 overs, to bowl six to seven overs when your legs are sore is the perfect way to build volume, which helps me get the rhythm back,” he explained while crediting the role of his nutritionist Suraj Thakuria to help him come back strongly.
While he is not in the mould of Hardik Pandya as someone who can clock above 140, he can be effective in other ways. “If I bowl in good rhythm, I can clock 130-135. I can’t bowl 140 plus. I am not a 21-year-old, so I have certain limitations. But I know I can work on my skills, like using my height to extract bounce off the pitch and exploit the conditions. And that is where red-ball bowling is crucial. It is about groupings and bowling in a particular area. If I can achieve that, then I will be satisfied.”
On the possible roadmap back to the national team, the Central Zone skipper, who is in the standbys for the Asian Games, said, “I don’t want to term this a comeback. I played for India when I expected it least. If I keep it simple, contributing to any team I play, selection will take care of itself. I feel I will still play for India and have that confidence. But if I keep thinking about it, that is excess baggage I think I will carry, which I don’t want to do.”
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