IPL: Starc is the answer to our prayers for a death bowler, says Venkatesh Iyer

KKR batter-all-rounder keen on team glory than personal milestones as they open against Sunrisers tomorrow

Iyer after completing his century against MI last season. (photo: BCCI)
Iyer after completing his century against MI last season. (photo: BCCI)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The buzz that Venkatesh Iyer created in his first season with Kolkata Knight Riders in 2021 may have been missing somewhat in recent times, but it doesn’t have much to do with his performance. Last season, he was the second highest scorer for his franchise with 404 runs with a standout century as he remains one of the standout Indian players in the Purple Army in the 2024 season.

The tall and gangly batter may have failed to fire in the warm-up games ahead of their opening game against Sunrisers Hyderabad at home on Saturday, but the 29-year-old brushes it off. ‘’My expectations from the season is to win the championship this year. At a personal level, I don’t expect much as long as I can contribute to the team cause. I have learnt the hard way that personal goals can sometimes distract you,’’ Venkatesh said on Thursday.

Speaking to National Herald during an exclusive chat at the team hotel, the articulate cricketer felt there had been a number of key reinforcements in the team since last year which will make a difference to their campaign. The presence of Gautam Gambhir as the mentor tops the list though it’s been less than a week that the Knights have started training under him alongwith chief coach Chandrakant Pandit.

‘’A legendary figure like Gambhir, who has achieved so much for the franchise, lifts the mood of the group. He has given us a lot of confidence and KKR will flourish under him,’’ remarked Venkatesh, who has joined the squad after an impressive Ranji Trophy campaign for semi-finalists Madhya Pradesh, where he scored 547 runs in eight games at an average of 45.58 and claimed eight wickets with his seam-up bowling.

He is also excited at the return of Shreyas Iyer as captain after he was ruled out the whole of last year with a back injury. Showering praise on him, Venkatesh said: ‘’When an accomplished batter is back, he adds a lot of value to the line-up. He had a great World Cup and to my mind, he was the best middle order batter in the entire tournament – so his return has certainly boosted the confidence of the team.’’

The biggest talking point about the KKR line-up this season is the way they have broken the bank to get Mitchell Starc, the Australian pace warhead. The opener-cum-impact player felt the rub-off effect that a Starc can have on young pacers like a Harshit Rana or Vaibhav Arora cannot be measured tangibly.

‘’Mitch has answered our prayers for a very good death bowler. He is one of the best bowlers in the circuit, a tall left-arm quick with the customary aggression of the Australians. When you have a bowler of his stature as the leader of the pace bowling pack, it boosts the confidence of the youngsters like a Harshit or Vaibhav as they can bowl around him,’’ observed the stylish southpaw with a lovely bat swing.

When Venkatesh broke into the Indian team for a ODI series at home against New Zealand in end-2021, he was being looked upon as the seaming allrounder who could act as a back-up to the then injured Hardik Pandya. Asked about focusing more on being the multi-tasker, he explained: ‘’See, I want to contribute in all possible ways. In the last IPL, I couldn’t bowl because I came out of an injury and was mostly an impact player. In a IPL team, the bowling line-up is so strong that it’s difficult to get a full quota of four overs.

‘’Of late, I have done enough bowling in first class cricket though and picked up wickets. If I am given the ball even if for one over, I try to squeeze in an economic over for the team,’’ he said.

As someone who has been essentially a product of the domestic cricket system, Venkatesh had once chucked his management job to pursue a career in cricket. How does he look at the BCCI’s latest push to ensure better perks for cricketers at this level, he was all for it: ‘’See, the reason why India is such a superpower in the game is due to our domestic structure. Competition in domestic cricket is amazing and you can really evolve as a complete cricketer through the challenges.

‘’The fact that BCCI considering to improve their lot is great news. However, the three-day gap between matches is too little as one day goes in travel time and in a big country like India, we are playing in different conditions,’’ he signed off.

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