The Curious Case of Mishandling Venkatesh Iyer

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After the first ODI in South Africa, both fans and the cricket fraternity are quite clueless about the role of Venkatesh Iyer in the Indian team. The match in Paarl has highlighted some of the issues like slow top-order, lack of wickets in the middle-overs and the need for a finisher in the team. However, the mishandling of the all-rounder has raised the most amount of eyebrows.

The team India has long been suffering from the absence of a seaming all-rounder. This weakness came to be its worst during the T20 World Cup 2021 when the selectors picked up a not-so-fit Hardik Pandya only to be proved wrong.

Following this event, selectors began to see Iyer as fit to fill the vacancy of an all-rounder in the team. The team management went on to select him ahead of Suryakumar Yadav for the series opener at Boland Park against South Africa. 

However, ironically, he was neither given the chance to bowl for a single over nor was he properly used as a batsman. The question remains that if it was not because of his bowling, why he was selected in the first place and wasted as a batter by putting so low in the order.

Interestingly, last September, KKR captain Eoin Morgan had made brilliant use of Iyer in the sluggish pitch of Sharjah and took control of the middle-overs against Delhi Capitals. Iyer, in the match, picked up two wickets and his performance in KKR contributed largely to his rise as a reliable all-rounder.     

In fact, what coach Rahul Dravid had said at the pre-match press conference was completely opposite of what happened during the match. “Yes, fast-bowling all-rounders are always an asset. They balance the team out. So, very excited about Venkatesh Iyer; he is really looking good at the nets and it’s a great opportunity for him.”

It was the second time when the same mistake was repeated. Last year, Iyer did not bowl in the first two T20I matches at home against New Zealand. It was a time when Iyer was playing as a backup of Hardik who was frequenting the treatment room due to his injuries. What this means is, time and again, India is failing to utilize the bilateral ODI and T20I series as an opportunity to figure out the right players and right combinations to fill out all the loopholes before the grand 50-over ICC tournament next year.

No wonder, former Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar was not at all impressed. “Only the captain has the answer as to why Venkatesh wasn’t bowled even once. He is a new player who has just made a name for himself in the last four-five months. That is why he is in the Indian team. But oppositions don’t know much about him,” the legendary former India captain told Sports Tak, adding: “Had he given an over, something else could have happened.”

Moreover, Iyer was wasted as a batsman, too, in the first ODI as he came at No.6 in the 34th over when the asking rate was already high. Instead of focusing on grooming him as a finisher, the management perhaps needs to give him an opening position where he has been most comfortable. 

With all these concerns, India is now looking forward to winning the second ODI on Friday to keep the three-match series alive. So, it will be interesting to see what steps the management takes regarding Iyer.

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