India have picked Venkatesh Iyer for a reason and should use him that way

Venkatesh Iyer has been picked as an all-rounder - the Indian team management needs to use him as one.
Venkatesh Iyer has been picked as an all-rounder - the Indian team management needs to use him as one.
Sooryanarayanan Sesha

Role specifications are a key aspect when it comes to any job. That job could be anything by the way - from a trainee, to an engineer, to a team leader or even an all-rounder in the Indian cricket team.

And yet, after making his ODI debut against South Africa on Wednesday, January 19, Venkatesh Iyer couldn't be blamed for scratching his head over his job description. After all, he was picked (read fast-tracked) into the national team setup owing to his multi-dimensional capabilities.

To put things into further context, he was picked to be a batter who could bowl medium pace - the rarest of rare combinations on the Indian circuit. With Hardik Pandya's bowling fitness continuing to be an issue, the Indian team management called upon Iyer in a bid to groom him for a similar role.

At least, that's what it seemed like from the outset. On the field, though, it has been far from it. And mind you, this is for no fault of Venkatesh Iyer, who impressed everyone with his panache in IPL 2021 in Kolkata Knight Riders colors.

Venkatesh Iyer has been barely used as a bowler

The role of a sixth bowler in 50-over cricket calls for a specific and clear-cut job description. The sixth bowler is ideally one who walks in on batting talent alone, while also being a handy operator with the ball in the middle overs. A decent five-over quota on average at an economy rate hovering around the 5.00 mark means that the player has fulfilled the job description.

The question here is - is Venkatesh Iyer cut out for the job? Going by what he showed in the IPL and in the Vijay Hazare Trophy for Madhya Pradesh, he most certainly is. Iyer bats at no.5 for the latter in the 50-over format. He's a proper batter as he scored 379 runs at an average of 63.16 and a garangutan strike rate of 133.92 in the 2021-22 Vijay Hazare Trophy.

Can he bowl? Of course he can! Nine wickets across six games in the same tournament vouch for it. More importantly, Iyer was a regular operator with the ball for Madhya Pradesh and clearly, he has the knack for picking up wickets.

Iyer is an all-rounder, right?

Yet Iyer was not utilized despite the scenario being perfectly set for him to send down a few overs and potentially break the Temba Bavuma-Rassie van der Dussen partnership. Yuzvendra Chahal endured an off day in the middle overs, a phase he is known for being most effective. Shardul Thakur and Bhuvneshwar Kumar also didn't have much to write home about.

Shikhar Dhawan reasoned out the slowness of the surface in a bid to use the main bowlers to break the stand. While that sounds wise on the one hand, it eventually proved ineffective. And frankly, Iyer had to be tried out either way.

There is no way a talent as young as Venkatesh Iyer can deliver at clutch moments unless he's given the green signal to execute his role. The T20I series against New Zealand in November also presented a bemusing situation where Iyer wasn't asked to bowl in the first two games. That too, with extreme dew taking centerstage and providing an apt platform for him.

India are grappling to find the right balance in the absence of Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja. The fitness cloud has been hanging over Pandya's head for quite a while now, particularly on the bowling front, and the flexibility he gives the Indian team is worth its weight in gold.

Venkatesh Iyer was nowhere in the picture about six months ago. Even the most ardent of Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) fans would have known only a little about a man who was picked up at base price at the IPL 2021 Auction. The landscape changed dramatically for Iyer, of course, post the UAE leg of the tournament.

He has been picked for higher honors for a reason - he offers a skillset that is a rarity in India. And the absence of Pandya, the man whose spot Venkatesh Iyer has filled this series, couldn't have been felt any worse than during India's faltering run chase in the first ODI.

Hardik Pandya's fitness issues have opened the door for Venkatesh Iyer.
Hardik Pandya's fitness issues have opened the door for Venkatesh Iyer.

And it is a code that takes time to crack. Pandya took time to crack that code and after three years in the international arena, he shone for India in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019.

Looking ahead to the next two marquee events - the 2022 T20 World Cup and the 2023 ODI World Cup - India need answers. They need an answer to Pandya's fitness of course, but they also need a contingency plan in case that doesn't go their way.

Venkatesh Iyer has to be used the way India aspire him to be

Selectors and management have shown faith in Venkatesh Iyer by fast-tracking him into the national team setup. But the fact remains that they will never know how ready he is for international cricket unless he is thrown into the deep end of the pool.

To that end, he must bowl every single game. Yes, there are no two ways about this. Even if Venkatesh Iyer ends up surplus to requirements on a given day, it isn't going to do the team any harm. If the management aspires long-term results and envisions a long-term return on investment, the seeds must be sown now.

Venkatesh Iyer was in fine form for KKR in the UAE leg of IPL 2021.
Venkatesh Iyer was in fine form for KKR in the UAE leg of IPL 2021.

One thing that is pivotal with regards to gaging all-rounders is their primary skillset. In Venkatesh Iyer's case, it clearly remains his batting. The fact that he bats in a similar position as he does in domestic cricket, there is a sense of familiarity in this regard.

It is a lot different in T20 cricket of course, but it is something that Iyer will have to adapt to. The reason? India have an embarrassment of riches as far as their top order is concerned.

If he is to slot into the first XI, Venkatesh Iyer will have to bat in the middle order instead of throwing the combination off guard. The last thing needed is an encore of the T20 World Cup, where Ishan Kishan had to open and Rohit Sharma was pushed down the order, right?

It is openly evident - Venkatesh Iyer has earned the right to be in the side but deserves to be given the opportunity to flourish. Listing his name in the playing XI wouldn't count for anything unless he is tested on the park. It is the least that would do justice to his panache and talent, which, if streamlined well, could do wonders for Indian cricket.

His job description is a very obvious one. It is now up to the team management to give Venkatesh Iyer the facilities to fulfill the same. In that regard, there is just one facility that he requires in the build up to the forthcoming ICC events - opportunity. And it has to come his way with immediate effect.

Also read: 3 observations from the first India-South Africa ODI.

Edited by Samya Majumdar
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