'Nowhere near Hardik' - Youngster admits he's not good enough to be in the Indian team
Hardik Pandya's spot in Indian cricket as the leading fast-bowling allrounder and the near-monopoly he has tended to symbolise with his two-skill availability have been a cause of envy for youngsters vying to replace him in the side.
Apart from Vijay Shankar and Shivam Dube, the Indian team have also tried out Venkatesh Iyer when their incumbent has been sidelined with an injury, before ultimately going back to the man, who can not only provide them the blitz with bat in hand but also critical breakthroughs with his skiddy, understated medium fast-bowling.
The range and the depth that Hardik Pandya brings to the table is unmatched by any of his competitors, and Venkatesh was honest enough to admit, "I’m nowhere close to (him) at this point of time" - a truth he had the chance to wake up to when the selectors tried him as a potential Pandya replacement in T20Is but eventually ditched him for the favoured cricketer.
Venkatesh Iyer on comparisons with Hardik Pandya, India return
Venkatesh Iyer's chance to don the Indian jersey arrived months before the team's build-up to the men's T20 World Cup 2022 in Australia picked up steam. With Hardik Pandya out injured, the selectors and the management trialled the MP cricketer in T20Is versus Sri Lanka and West Indies at home. The 28-year-old, who impressed for two-time champions Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in the IPL, played 9 T20Is and 2 ODIs in the period that Pandya wasn't available.
"In India, there is a problem of plenty. And then when you look at Hardik, he’s got the skills to be India’s top all-rounder. And if I have to cement my place in the 11, I have to be as good as him, which I’m nowhere close to at this point of time," the youngster told SportsKeeda in an interview.
"This is the honest truth and I have to accept that. But I’ll be working towards it. And once I’m confident of my bowling, then I think I can contribute in all the departments. It’s just about my bowling which I’m really working hard on."
Aware that he needs to upskill his powerhitting game down the order, especially against pace, and must improve his range and speed as a medium quick, Venkatesh, on his comeback trail, had an impressive IPL 2023 for KKR. The left-hander didn't bowl throughout the campaign but struck 404 runs in his 14 innings at a strike-rate of 145.85.
"I am absolutely not thinking of a comeback," he said when asked if the comeback hogs most of his headspace. "I played in the Indian team when I didn’t think about it. So I want to keep it that way. The more pressure I add on myself, the more I would go away from my process."
"The only thing in mind is to become the 100 percent fit cricketer that I always was – to bat and bowl in full capacity. And that will happen when I play more and more domestic games. So the current focus is to represent MP. Once I can look in the mirror and say, ‘I am ready to represent India’, only then I’ll think about it."