As the suspense looms over Hardik Pandya's full recovery from the lower back injury that snatched his bowling skills, Venkatesh Iyer has made a strong case for his selection in the T20 World Cup. The Madhya Pradesh all-rounder scored 92 runs — twice unbeaten — and picked up two wickets in the 3-0 triumph over the West Indies.
Venkatesh did not get too many opportunities to roll his arms. Precisely, 37 balls in three innings in the T20Is. He is a lot more than what he has offered so far. He has been training with coach Anand Rajan in Indore to bowl faster with improved accuracy.
"Our main focus for him is to make him bowl 10 to 12 overs a day, whether he is playing a four-day game for MP or Vijay Hazare. He has to bowl 10 overs with intent. There could be a few technical changes in the action, which will help him bowl a little faster than how he is bowling now, plus accuracy," Rajan, who was with the MRF Pace Academy from 2004 to 2009, told Sportstar .
The duo had a plan for every West Indian batter ahead of the series. "Depending on the games to come, we plan accordingly. We shortlisted the batsmen to whom he may have to bowl. We try to execute those plans in the practice sessions. A few players are known, and you know what lengths to bowl. We had videos of Nicholas Pooran, Kieron Pollard and Rovman Powell. And since the ODIs happened before the T20Is, we saw the others also," he said.
He picked up the wicket of Pollard and Jason Holder in the third T20I. Adam Milne was his maiden wicket in the T20Is in his debut series against New Zealand in November 2021.
Rajan's mission is to make him a lethal bowling option closer to the T20 World Cup. They ensure to spend at least one hour with each other whenever Venkatesh is in town. He also advises the player on his batting from a bowler's perspective.
"If there is a first-class camp, he attends and comes to me after that. The other day Deepak Chahar got injured, and he had to bowl one ball. It could have been five balls also. You have to remain prepared," said the former MP pacer who was part of Deccan Chargers and Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL.
Venkatesh is a batter who is more confident about his bowling to provide that X-factor. He has bowled 51 deliveries in the IPL for three wickets. "He has bowled three overs on the trot (for 2/29 against Delhi Capitals). He went up to Eoin Morgan and asked for four overs, and this time, he went up to Rohit Sharma. He has that confidence. And he has bowled the tough overs in the IPL and domestic cricket. Bowling is about aligning your body with the ball, and if you are confident, you can pitch it anywhere. He has the variations too," he said.
The ODI omission, after only two games in South Africa, kept him disturbed for a while. "He was tense and a bit nervous after the South Africa series. Now we know that one poor performance could change things since so many people are waiting in the pipeline. He has to make every opportunity count. Hopefully, the IPL will be good for him," said Rajan, who also speaks about injury management with his ward.
"We need to cover basic things like how he is recovering after a session, but most important is to be in a happy space. If the person is in the right frame of mind and happy, he can perform well.
"He tells me everything, and there is communication. He knows if he has to field 20 overs and come out and bat, it can be tiring," he added.
Pandya will be leading the new franchise Gujarat Titans in the IPL and has not revealed if he has regained the fitness to bowl with full intensity. The Baroda cricketer is not part of the Ranji Trophy too.
Venkatesh will be aiming to be the match-winner for Kolkata Knight Riders again to prove his consistency.