Express News Service
CHENNAI: Who is Venkatesh Iyer and where has he been all this while? That is the question on everyone’s lips after the 26-year-old left-hander produced another stroke-filled innings for Kolkata Knight Riders on Thursday. After an unbeaten 41 on his IPL debut against Royal Challengers Bangalore in KKR’s previous game, Iyer once again came to the fore to deliver a seven-wicket win for his side, this time against a Mumbai Indians attack that includes the likes of Trent Boult, Jasprit Bumrah and Adam Milne. He smashed 53 entertaining runs off just 30 deliveries to set up the chase of 156 while Rahul Tripathi also came to the fore with an equally entertaining 74* in 42 balls.
While Tripathi is a known commodity in the IPL, it is Iyer’s sudden impact from seeming obscurity that has made people sit up and take notice.
The towering reputations in Mumbai’s line-up did not seem to faze him one bit. His very first ball on Thursday was disdainfully dispatched to the deep square leg boundary for six. It did not seem to matter that the bowler was Boult, whose ability to swing the new ball keeps far more experienced players on their toes. The man from Madhya Pradesh — whose family is originally from Tamil Nadu — started in top gear and never slowed down, batting as though this was just a game in the streets of his neighbourhood in Indore.
As his age of 26 illustrates, Iyer is certainly not a greenhorn on the domestic circuit. He made his debut for Madhya Pradesh in the shorter formats as far back as 2015 while his first-class debut came in 2018. Having not featured for KKR in the India leg, it remains unclear why he was not utilised earlier as well as what changed between then and now. Now that Iyer is getting his moment in the spotlight, he is certainly making the most of it.
KKR’s comprehensive win overshadowed the efforts of the Mumbai openers. Rohit Sharma, who was returning for this game, combined well with Quinton de Kock to stitch together a partnership of 78 and provide a strong platform for the Mumbai middle-order. They certainly had the ammunition to reach a score closer to 180, but the likes of Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, Kieron Pollard and Krunal Pandya floundered.
The Kolkata attack, to its credit, did well to fight back after the initial onslaught from Quinton’s blade in particular. The spin duo of Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine were exemplary yet again, conceding just 42 runs between them in eight overs with a wicket to boot. Lockie Ferguson, too, made a stirring comeback after an expensive first over that went for 11 runs.
Hardik’s absence a slight worry
When Hardik Pandya missed the first game of the UAE leg against Chennai Super Kings on Sunday alongside skipper Rohit Sharma, coach Mahela Jayawardene had played down any concerns by saying that they were down with just minor niggles. While Rohit returned for the game against KKR on Thursday, Hardik’s continued absence from the playing XI may be a cause for concern. With the T20 World Cup coming up, Hardik’s contributions — with both bat and ball — will be vital for India to harbour hopes of going all the way.
Brief scores: Mumbai Indians 155/6 in 20 overs (Q de Kock 55; L Ferguson 2/27) lost to Kolkata Knight Riders 159/3 in 15.1 overs (R Tripathi 74 n.o., V Iyer 53; Bumrah 3/43).