IPL Prediction : Venkatesh Iyer, the ‘Stephen Fleming clone’ who saved Kolkata Knight Riders’ season

Both the Delhi Capitals and the Knight Riders were aware of this heading into Qualifier 2.

Shikhar Dhawan and Prithvi Shaw sought to maximise their team’s chances in the powerplay after the Capitals were set to bat. Varun Chakravarthy caught Shaw lbw with his first delivery and pushed them to 32 for no loss in four overs. Marcus Stoinis was brought in at No. 3 to get some quick runs, but Varun and Lockie Ferguson made sure that didn’t happen, and the Capitals were reduced to 38 for 1 after six overs.

The Sharjah slowness kicked in after that, and the Capitals ended with a score of 135 for 5.

Shubman Gill and Iyer were now in charge of getting the Knight Riders off to a fast start. Gill got things started with a cover drive on the first ball of the chase, but it was all Iyer after that. R Ashwin was brushed behind square leg, Axar Patel was blasted over beyond long-on, and Avesh Khan was caressed past midwicket by the left-hander. Everything was done with such ease and nonchalance.

The game-changing shot, on the other hand, came against Kagiso Rabada. Rabada may not have had the best season of his career, but he is still Rabada. Iyer, on the other hand, sprang from his crease like a dibbly-dobbler in a home game. Yes, it was a slower ball, but Iyer went ahead and took the shot, sending it to deep midwicket.

Iyer’s onslaught ensured Knight Riders were cruising at 51 for no loss after six overs, despite Gill getting just one boundary in the powerplay. That was the first part of the fight won.

After the game, Capitals coach Ricky Ponting stated as much. “The powerplays in both innings were most likely the game’s deciding factor. We didn’t get enough with the bat on our powerplay, in my opinion. At the end of our powerplay, I believe we were 37 [38], which was probably eight to ten runs short of where we needed to be and what the par score on this wicket is.

“Then, from the first to the second innings, the conditions drastically shifted. Batting seemed a lot simpler in the first 10 overs of their batting innings when they had a newish ball and the dew was on the ground. I felt KKR did a fantastic job with their opening stand today, and I believe they’ve unearthed a true gem in Venkatesh Iyer. He appears to be a player who may be a great fit for Kolkata and even India in the future.”

Iyer had guided Knight Riders to 96 in 12.2 overs by the time he was dismissed; his 55 runs off 41 balls were as exquisite as they could have been on this track.

Hussey was all over him after that. “From the first pitch, he hit the ball well. He struck a few huge sixes that altered the flow of the game and put us in a winning position. He’s simply a world-class player. He’s tall, and I assume he’s a Stephen Fleming clone. In the game, he has a bright future.”

When the IPL 2021 season began in India, Iyer was not a starter. He didn’t get a single game back home, in fact. However, after moving to the UAE, he has scored 320 runs at an average of 40 and a strike rate of 125, second only to Ruturaj Gaikwad (407) in this time span. Iyer is also the first player to score a half-century at each of the UAE’s three venues: Sharjah, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi.

At the post-match press conference, he was asked to compare playing domestic cricket in India to competing in the IPL against the best players in the world.

“I don’t think there’s any difference,” he answered. “I’ve played exactly as I wanted to play, and I’m overjoyed that the management has asked me to do so. There’s no difference between what happened in the [Syed] Mushtaq Ali [Trophy] and the first-class and what’s going on here, in my opinion. There is a little more pressure, but if you can take it, this is a fantastic venue to play cricket for all of us.

“I think I’ve been limiting myself over the last couple of games. I just wanted to stay until the very end. That’s when I realised it wasn’t me. I was missing out on the now by assuming I would be there till the end. So I wanted to stay in the present and turn poor balls into boundaries, and once I had momentum, I decided that this was the best path to go. This is how I’ve been playing in the IPL so far, and I’d like to keep it up.”

And what about his India call-up as a net bowler? Is he satisfied with this? “Absolutely, but I’m not considering it. There’s one more game left, and I’m completely focused on it. Of course, I heard the news today, but I didn’t think much about it because [there was] a huge game tonight. So I wanted to be totally focused on it, and I want to do so the next day as well.”

Iyer didn’t wait for the inquiry to complete before answering whether or not his days as a corporate employee were gone. “Absolutely. I don’t want to return to that place.”

He doesn’t need to go since he belongs here.

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