Venkatesh Iyer
Venkatesh Iyer of the Kolkata Knight Riders in action during the IPL match against the Mumbai Indians in Abu Dhabi on September 23, 2021. Image Credit: ANI

The best known Iyer in the Indian Premier League was Shreyas Iyer of the Delhi Capitals. That’s before Venkatesh Iyer announced his arrival with blistering knocks in the UAE. The left-hand batsman is largely credited with reviving the Kolkata Knight Riders’ floundering campaign and catapulting them into the final of IPL 2021.

The Kolkata resurgence was not just an Iyer show. Varun Chakravarthy’s mystery spin too has been a critical element, so was Eoin Morgan’s captaincy. There were other matchwinners in Sunil Narine and Rahul Tripathi. But Iyer’s breathless strokeplay in the powerplay won the crunch games, and Kolkata are ideally placed to win their third title. Well, it’s not easy; the Chennai Super Kings, three-time champions, are formidable opponents.

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Mahendra Singh Dhoni must be plotting to pack off Iyer early in the game. That’s crucial for a Chennai win. Iyer and Shubhman Gill had been very industrious in the powerplay, and that allowed Kolkata to mask the frailties in the middle-order. Four ducks against Delhi in Qualifier 2 is ample evidence of their brittle batting.

Chief coach Brendon McCullum and captain Morgan must be aware of Kolkata’s Achilles heel. So they would want Iyer and Gill to provide a launchpad, just like they have done in Phase 2 of IPL 2021.

So what makes Iyer tick? His fearlessness. Iyer is unafraid to launch from the first ball. That shows total faith in his shot-making capabilities that has been on display since his first match in the UAE against the Royal Challengers Bangalore. He has racked up 320 runs at an average of 40 and a strike rate of 125. Only Ruturaj Gaikwad (407) has more runs in Phase 2. Not just that. Iyer is also the only batter to score half-centuries in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.

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Well, that gives a fair idea of Iyer’s rich vein of form, which has received glowing tributes from Morgan and Kolkata mentor David Hussey after the win over Delhi. Morgan was effusive in his praise in the post-match chat with Star Sports on Thursday. Referring to Iyer as a terrific player, Morgan said: [He] made the chase easy, looks like he was batting on a different wicket.”

Hussey too was in awe of Iyer’s knock that put Delhi on the back foot. “He struck the ball superbly from ball one. Some of those big sixes he hit actually changed the tempo of the game and got us into a winning position. He’s just a class player…He’s got a big future in the game,” ESPNcricinfo quoted the Australian as saying.

One of Iyer’s shots against Delhi is vivid in my mind. He skipped down to pace bowler Kagiso Rabada and lifted him over midwicket with ease. The crack of the bat meeting the ball is still ringing in my ears. A clean hit. Such shots have been the hallmark of Iyer’s knocks.

Kolkata will need more of that if they have to beat Chennai.