McCullum: Venkatesh Iyer 'certainly not out of reckoning'
'He is working hard in the nets and trying to get his spot back and that'll certainly be a consideration'
Kolkata Knight Riders head coach Brendon McCullum has backed Venkatesh Iyer to come good again and insisted that the misfiring allrounder is still in contention to win a spot in the XI.
"He didn't get as many runs as he would have liked and we were forced to look at some other [opening] options, which is disappointing for someone who has represented India in the last seven-eight months on the back of what was a very good IPL last time in the UAE," McCullum said after Knight Riders' seventh loss on Saturday.
After a mere 109 runs in seven innings as opener, Knight Riders moved him down to the middle order, like India did when he debuted for them last year. But that didn't work either. With just one score above 20 - a half-century against Mumbai Indians - he had to make way.
"It is frustrating for him and he is working hard in the nets and trying to get his spot back and that'll certainly be a consideration," McCullum said. "In a short tournament, you've got to be prepared to use some other guys in the squad and that's what we had to unfortunately do with Venkatesh but he's certainly not out of the reckoning in the games to come. He is a real talent and has a good head on his shoulders. I know he is determined to take that next step and start to perform more regularly."
Venkatesh's struggles are all the more bizarre considering he was one of the biggest contributors to the Knight Riders' improbable run to the IPL final last year. Though he played only 10 of their 17 matches, he finished as their fourth-highest run-getter with a tally of 370. ESPNcricinfo experts Daniel Vettori, Chris Lynn and Aakash Chopra believe the allrounder may be suffering second-season syndrome. McCullum agreed. "As well with Venky's second year, teams do a bit more scouting and homework as has historically been the case in this tournament as well as in international cricket."
Knight Riders have tried five different opening combinations this year and none of them have worked. They are averaging just 13.09 runs for the first wicket, which is the worst out of all the 10 teams. Their run-rate in the powerplay (6.53) is another low point. And they've been losing way too many wickets (23) in the first six overs too.
"We've struggled in the powerplay, which has been a bit of a frustration for us right throughout the season," McCullum said. "We've been good throughout the middle phase, not too bad at the death, but the powerplay, we've been a little stuck. We've got to find a method to not lose too many wickets [in the powerplay] and throw a few punches and pick up a few boundaries because at the moment we are sort of stuck in between and opposition teams are taking advantage of that.
"If you look around at the other teams who sit towards the top of the table, one of their opening batsmen is also one of the highest run scorers. It's an area where we haven't been able to settle and unfortunately some guys haven't been in the form that they would have liked as well. So we're just searching for a little bit of form and sometimes in a quick tournament you do often have to change personnel. It's been frustrating but the guys are certainly working hard and I can't fault the effort."
Venkatesh's second suit has also not been come to his aid, having bowled all of three overs at an economy over 12. But McCullum put that down to his not getting too many chances.
"Unfortunately, Venky and (Nitish) Rana, who we've underutilised a little bit, they haven't had enough opportunity to bowl and have just missed the execution (in the chances they have got). That can affect one's confidence when they are not able to get into a game and settle into a game."