Has second-season syndrome got to Venkatesh Iyer?

"Teams, players, coaches are better prepared for him," says Daniel Vettori of the KKR allrounder's batting slump, in conversation with Chris Lynn and Aakash Chopra

Since getting retained by Kolkata Knight Riders for INR 8 crore (40 times his previous salary), life in the IPL hasn't been easy for Venkatesh Iyer. He's batted eight times this season and has gone past 20 only once, and neither his average (18.00) nor his strike rate (102.43) make for pretty reading.
After six games as opener, Knight Riders have moved him into the middle order, and that hasn't worked either. So what's gone wrong?
According to both the former captain and coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore Daniel Vettori and former Knight Riders batter Chris Lynn, Iyer's troubles this season mostly fall into the category of second-season syndrome.
"I think I remember a discussion with Lynny, probably when we were watching a game, when he just thought that there's a lot more information on Venkatesh Iyer, and therefore bowling coaches, coaches in general, have put a lot more time and effort into how to find a way to bowl to him, and I think that's simply second-season [syndrome] or whatever it is - it happens," Vettori said on the ESPNcricinfo show T20 Time:Out. "It's happened to a lot of players, it's happened to a lot of very good players, and the challenge, I suppose, is to step up from that.
"And I think bowlers also have an understanding - some bowlers would have had success against him and try to relive that, and some bowlers would try to rectify mistakes that they made last year. I don't think you need to overthink it; it's just the fact that teams, players, coaches are better prepared for him."
Lynn said Iyer's challenge would be to come up with plans to fight his way back into form.
"On the whiteboards in every change room will be exactly the same plans, no doubt about that, and he's just got to find a way," he said. "There's no doubt he's good enough to bat from [Nos.] 1 to 6 - he's playing in the Kolkata side for a reason, because he's got talent. It's just that teams have more knowledge and it's as simple as that, I think.
"The challenge for him is to try and go back to the drawing board, build some confidence, whether that's for Kolkata or for another team, but just try and have some clarity when he's walking out to bat, and it might be putting away a big shot, it might be just getting off strike, it might be using his feet, whatever it may be, just finding a way to get down to the other end and bat time. He's only scored one fifty so far, he's just got to bat time, and that's the only way you build confidence."
The former India opener Aakash Chopra, who was part of the same discussion, felt there might be two other reasons for Iyer's dip in form.
"I completely agree that there is data, there is analysis, and there's a lot of homework with regards to certain players, and he's a top-order batter. So that's one part of the story," he said. "But the second part is that since that fantastic [2021] season he's batted at [Nos.] 5 for 6 for his state side, for India, and now he's back to opening, so yes, while he's facing these form issues and found-out kind of issues, but the fact is that he's been up and down the order too much.
"Even now, KKR lost faith very quickly. So that's one side, that he's now maybe slightly confused in the head, 'what am I supposed to do, am I an opener or am I a finisher?'
"Secondly, nobody else is [performing]. See, sometimes you could go through a bad patch but you have an opening partner who's scoring runs. He makes your life simpler, easier, and gives you the allowance to just find form, sometimes, but that's not happening, their batting is in slight disarray. You don't have runs from a lot of them - once in a while from Shreyas Iyer but nobody has been consistent enough, so that just puts the added pressure on Venkatesh."
Should KKR have retained Iyer?
Another potential source of pressure on Iyer could be having to live up to being retained by his franchise - ahead of Shubman Gill, one of the brightest top-order talents in India, who has since moved to Gujarat Titans.
Vettori felt Knight Riders had made a smart move in retaining Iyer.
"You'd have to know the man to answer that question [whether being retained had put more pressure on Iyer], but I think KKR were right in retaining him, because I think that the auction would have taken him to another level in terms of the amount that he would have gone for," he said. "Everyone talks about that Indian allrounder and what he could have brought to a team, so retained for 6 crore, if I'm correct? [8 crore] I think he would have comfortably gone for more than that if he'd gone into the auction. I think KKR's strategy was right; it's just the fact that he hasn't had the season that they would have expected."
Chopra said he would have retained Gill ahead of Iyer, if it was his call to make.
"There are two more seasons to go, two-and-a-half more seasons to go [before the next scheduled mega auction], so let's not jump the gun, and you can't always judge a decision based on how things are panning out," he said. "You do the best at that point in time, whatever you think.
"But I think, personally, they had a choice. They had a choice of paying a couple of crores more to Shubman Gill and retaining him, and then invest in him as maybe a long-term captaincy candidate. I think it's not about Venkatesh Iyer getting retained, and maybe he was worth more or worth less, we don't know, but Shubman Gill, I think letting him go was a mistake, because it's important to know when to hold on to, and when to let go of [a player]. I think the best of Shubman Gill is going to come in the next three years for Gujarat Titans and not KKR."
And what of his bowling?
Iyer, meanwhile, has not had much of a chance to show off his second suit this season, with Knight Riders only calling on his medium-pace for two overs. This, Lynn said, was not a reflection of his skills as much as of the team's requirements. He believes Knight Riders can get their money's worth out of Iyer in the long term, if he and their coaches can find a way to fix his ongoing issues.
"I think you can't really use that [not being required to bowl] against him, because […] going back to the auction they've done well, and obviously Andre Russell is bowling quite well as well, when he's needed, so it's not Venky's fault there at all, but I think it's a positive move from Kolkata to retain him.
"You look at other teams, there's two world-class established players that's probably had a similar season - it's not rocket science to work out who those guys are - but I think it's a great move from Kolkata and they're investing in him long-term; the challenge is up to him now and the coaching staff to get him back up where he wants to be and needs to be, not only scoring runs for Kolkata but getting back in those Indian colours where he does belong, I believe."
As to where Iyer should bat for the rest of the season, the T20 Time:Out panel was unanimous in its opinion that he should go back to the top of the order.
"My only humble submission is that once you invest in someone for whatever reason, stick with it for a little longer," Chopra said. "Don't lose patience, don't lose faith that early, Venkatesh Iyer at the top of the order is your best bet. None of your other openers are anyway firing."
Lynn concurred. "Yeah, 100%. It's the only way we're going to build confidence back with him. Get him up. He's a freely flowing batsman, he plays on instinct, and that's not going to happen at 5 or 6, so let's get him back up in the opening role when the field's in."