From taking to the IPL by storm to getting to make his T20I debut for India, things have come thick and fast for Venkatesh Iyer. From someone who was playing for Madhya Pradesh unnoticed since 2015, to someone seen as a viable option for the seam bowling allrounder’s slot in white-ball cricket vacated for now by Hardik Pandya, life has completely changed for the 27-year-old.
Before leaving for South Africa for the three-match ODI series, Iyer, also a finance expert, spoke to TOI on a variety of things – his preparations for the tour, his late-blooming career, how academics has helped him in cricket, and his love for South megastar Rajnikanth.
Excerpts from an interview…
How has your experience been with the Indian team so far?
It’s been a wonderful experience. Every cricketer who starts playing the game wants to play for the country. It’s the same with me. I’m really happy that it’s happened. Everyone has welcomed me. The warmth that I’m getting in the dressing room is amazing. You didn’t get to bowl much in the T20I series against New Zealand.
How do you plan to convince the captain and the coach about your utility in the bowling department? Have you worked on increasing your pace, or bowling faster?
It’s not about convincing, but it’s at the back of the captain and coach’s mind to make me bowl more, and whenever I get the opportunity to bowl, I’ll definitely try to give my best. I’m still working on my bowling and that process will never end. I’m trying to work harder on accuracy and bowling in the right areas.
FOCUSED: Venkatesh Iyer has impressed in the few opportunities that have come his way. (Photo by Pankaj Nangia/Getty Images)
How are you preparing yourselves for the bouncy tracks in South Africa?
I think I’ve played a lot on bouncy tracks. The best thing about playing in domestic cricket is that you get to play on a variety of tracks. In India, we have a lot of tracks where there’s extra bounce. Obviously, that practice has come handy. All my practice procedures are set, and I’m keeping up with them.
Does it put pressure on you that allrounder Hardik Pandya could always come back into the team once he regains his fitness and form?
I’m not here to fill anyone’s shoes. I want to contribute to the team’s victory, and that’s my mindset. I’m not thinking that a certain player would come back or that he’s not in the team, that’s why I’m in the side. That’s not how I function. I believe that I’m in the team because I can bat and bowl. You are an opener with your IPL team and in the Madhya Pradesh team, but the team requires a finisher in you.
How are you planning to mould your game accordingly?
I’ve batted in the middle-order for a long time. I’ve been an opener for just the past two years. Even in the recent Vijay Hazare Trophy I batted in the middle order, so it won’t be a new territory for me. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m going to play the role of a finisher for the team, and I’m completely ready for that. The most important thing is accepting it in your mind first, rather than the other people expecting it.
Did you imagine that you will have such a dream start to your IPL career for the Kolkata Knight Riders?
I was very confident playing in the IPL. I knew that if I was given the opportunity I’ll do well. But to be very honest, I didn’t expect anything out of me. It was my first season, and I went in with the mindset to enjoy each and every moment in it, irrespective of whatever happens, the numbers, rather than put pressure on myself by expecting too much. This is what I’d worked for. I’m really happy that it came off good. I was happier that my team rose from No 7 to ultimately playing in the final.
What role has Madhya Pradesh coach Chandrakant Pandit played in your growth as a cricketer?
The coming of Pandit sir has been amazing not just for me, but for entire MP cricket. The clarity of thought that I have now is something I never imagined I could have. We’ve excelled a lot as a team. Unfortunately, that couldn’t show in the form of results as we haven’t won any trophy, but as a team we’re doing really well.
How does it feel to have so many expectations from everyone after a smashing start to your IPL career?
Expectations will always be there once you start playing a certain level of cricket. But I’m not thinking that way. I’m just focusing on my process. I know what to expect of myself and I understand what it takes to achieve things. Obviously, I’ll stick to my process irrespective of whatever happens. The numbers and performances are not in my hands. Only the effort is. So I’ll look to give my best and leave the rest to God.
At 27, do you feel that the time is running out for you to cement a place in the Indian team?
I don’t think so. You’re never late or early. It’s always the perfect time to break into any team and establish yourself. Again, that’s not how I look at it. I take things as they come, and not think about what’s going to happen in the future. Right now, what I’ve in my mind is the next practice session! I take short-term targets. I don’t look at things from a long-term perspective. Of course, there’s the ultimate objective of playing in all three formats for the country, and not just playing, but making India win. But right now, my focus is on the next series and how to develop as a cricketer and as a person. Not more than that.
For an allrounder, how do you keep yourself fit for the top level?
It’s very important for me to be fit, because I contribute in all the three departments of the game. I’ve to give a lot of credit to my trainer back home and also my nutritionist Siraj Thakur, who’s changed the way I’ve started to look at myself. He’s one guy I respect the most and he’s really close to me. It’s because of his guidance that I’ve started to believe that my body can do better things and I can perform better.