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I want to be a player who wins games for India: Venkatesh Iyer

With the ODI series just round the corner, India will yet again search for that elusive all-rounder who can do the job for the team with both bat and ball.
Venkatesh Iyer, in the aftermath of a dream 2021, is the chosen man for the job. In an interaction with
Boria Majumdar, the lanky all-rounder opens on how he sees the upcoming opportunities in the year of T20 World Cup, how does he look back at the year 2021, the role of Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in his rise and more. Excerpts:

When you look back at 2021, does it all feel real?

Yes, while it wasn’t the best year for the world and for humanity, for me it was a fantastic year. It was a year when I realised that I belonged here and that I could make a mark. That’s the most important thing for me when I look back at 2021.

Tell us how it all happened for you at KKR?

I owe KKR a lot for doing all that they have done for me. I had a decent Mushtaq Ali (domestic T20 tournament) in 2021 and was hoping that something good would come out of it. In the auction, I was twice unsold before KKR finally picked me up. That was the moment for me. It said to me that I was going in the right direction. Yes, I did not get an opportunity to play in the first leg but KKR always inspired me and gave me a sense that my opportunity was round the corner. Luckily for me the Covid-induced break happened and when we resumed in September I got my opportunity. And I managed to make the most of it. In fact, what KKR was able to achieve in the UAE will still be talked about 20-30 years later and will be one of the biggest IPL comeback stories of all time. And by doing so it was the team that helped bring the best out of me.

Tell us about the day when the KKR management informed you about your debut?

We played a couple of practice matches and I had scored some 70-80 runs in them. I thought I had played well. After my batting was done, I dived and saved the very first ball. That’s what impressed Baz (Brendon McCullum, the coach) and he said it was the kind of attitude he wanted to see in KKR. That’s when things started to happen for me. And against RCB when the bowlers restricted them for under 100 (92), it became easy. Once the initial jitters about opening etc. were over I was absolutely at peace with myself. I told myself that this is what I do every day. I was in my stride.

And then you were selected for the Indian team?

Soon after the IPL there were some news reports about me joining the Indian team and getting an opportunity. I will be lying to you if I say I don’t check social media and don’t read these reports. I sure do. And honestly it feels good to see people talk about you and it motivates me more. I enjoyed being with the Indian team and it only made my resolve stronger to formally get picked and make a mark for the country.

Which finally happened against New Zealand. Must have been a dream come true moment for you. After all 0.1 percent get to play for India.

I don’t see it that way. Like you said 0.1 per cent do play for India and that isn’t a very small number. I just don’t want to be a player who played. I want to be the one who wins games for India, makes a telling contribution with both bat and ball and also on the field. That’s what I want to do and in time also make a contribution in red-ball cricket.

You want to also make a mark in Test cricket for India.

Absolutely. That’s the end goal. Test cricket is the best form of cricket and eventually I am determined to win red-ball games for India as an all-rounder.

As an all-rounder who is aspiring to play multi-formats, you know what it entails right. Think of the fitness and the pressure on the body.

What is the body for? The body is here to work. I have worked very hard on my body with my nutritionist and now I am very conscious of my diet and what I eat, for example. My perception towards food has changed and I now treat food as something my body needs to get stronger. I can tell you I can now score a 100 and then go on and easily bowl 10 overs. My body is ready for it and over the period I want to go further and do it in long-form cricket.

You started playing cricket in 2015 in earnest and you have finally made the big league in 2021. What did you do different in last couple of years?

It was in 2017-18 that I made what I call behavioural adjustment. And that’s what changed it all for me. In 2015, people were expecting a lot from me and in the end it all got a little too much for me to handle. Once I made the adjustment in my mind I was at peace. And that’s what I would say helped me evolve as a cricketer. For example, when I left the Deloitte job in 2018 I knew I wanted to play cricket and never had a hesitation leaving the job. But even if I had continued in Deloitte, I would have been happy because I had made that mental adjustment which is so required by us all.

When you left your job there was no certainty you would be able to make the cut as a cricketer. Did you not feel apprehensive?

No, I did not. It was in that year that I made the Ranji Trophy team and that was the real gamechanger for me. That’s when I knew I can make it in top-rung cricket and was convinced of what I wanted to do. Once I knew that, leaving the job wasn’t difficult because cricket had become my first love and choice.

We have the T20 World Cup this year. And now you have South Africa where you will make your 50-over debut. Thoughts on both.

I don’t think too far ahead you know. But yes, I did always think of the World Cup and not simply being there but making a mark and helping India win major games. That’s what the goal is and always will be. And once you know you can do certain things, your desire to accomplish certain goals only get stronger. For example, I scored 198 in the Vijay Hazare last year. Now I know I can get a double hundred and I surely will. I knew if we stayed on for three more overs in the IPL final, we could have won it for KKR. That’s what will spur me on for the next season and I will absolutely not rest easy and will want to win an IPL Trophy with KKR. It is the very same for India for I know I can contribute and make my team win with both bat and ball. Winning it for your team — that’s what it is all about in the end.

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