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‘A captaincy error’ – Experts ‘baffled’ by KL Rahul’s decision not to bowl Venkatesh Iyer against South Africa

by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

KL Rahul’s decision not to call upon the services of Venkatesh Iyer with the ball in the first South Africa-India ODI has puzzled experts.

South Africa posted 296-4 at Boland Park, recovering from 68-3 through a double century stand between Rassie van der Dussen and Temba Bavuma. Both middle-order batters made centuries, but stand-in skipper Rahul used only five bowlers through the innings, even as that quintet struggled to break through.

Iyer was one of the breakout stars of the 2021 Indian Premier League, spearheading Kolkata Knight Riders’ charge to the final with runs atop the order. He also impressed with the ball, albeit from a modest sample size. He claimed three wickets in 8.3 overs bowled, conceding runs at an economy of 8.11 runs per over. Iyer is making his ODI debut, with the game also marking Rahul’s first as captain in the format.

Shardul Thakur in particular had a game to forget, conceding 72 runs in 10 wicketless overs, and Sanjay Manjrekar, speaking to ESPNcricinfo, wondered if Rahul’s relative inexperience meant he was unwilling to suggest that any of his bowlers were having a bad day.

“Maybe he just wants to allow people like Chahal to come back,” the former India captain said. “He’s a young captain and these are guys who are quite seasoned, and sometimes the captain feels, if I take him off the attack it’s confirmation that he had a bad day and you don’t give him the opportunity to come back, maybe he felt that obligation. But he should have remained pretty clinical about it. There was a definite case to have Venky Iyer bowling four or five overs especially when you have somebody like Bavuma who doesn’t have the power to get at someone like him at his pace on this kind of a pitch. So yes, it’s a valid question to raise as to why the sixth bowler wasn’t used, considering that a couple of them were going to the cleaners.”

Former South Africa batter Daryl Cullinan felt that, while India’s bowlers didn’t bowl badly, Iyer’s medium pace could have been the perfect solution for the situation.

“They only went for, on my count, 22 boundaries,” he said. “A lot of runs were scored in ones, twos and threes. So I don’t think they were too far off their mark. But I think there definitely was a captaincy error, he had to give Iyer a chance. As Sanjay mentioned, keeper standing up, taking the pace off it. If anything I think they didn’t take the pace off the ball enough. And often the bowlers need the captain or the keeper’s input to say, what can we do different? And let’s not forget what the captain had to say. He said we’re here to try combinations, we’re looking at this series to see how guys go. Here you’ve got a guy on debut, the rest aren’t getting you wickets, they’re going at five an over. Give him the ball. Surely he was due for a couple.”

Speaking on Star Sports, Aakash Chopra wondered if it was time to stop considering Iyer as an all-rounder, if India remain reluctant to use him with the ball. Iyer has now played four limited-overs games for India but has bowled just once, claiming 1-12 in three overs in a T20I against New Zealand.

“That baffled me,” the former India opener said. “With regards to not bowling Venkatesh Iyer, it’s not only KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma did the same thing in the two T20Is against New Zealand. He was bowled only after India won the series.

“In the pre-match press conference, KL Rahul said he would use Venkatesh Iyer as the sixth bowling option. There were many, many moments in this game to see what he could actually do. He could have leaked a few runs but ODI cricket is one format that allows a bowler to leak a few runs and make a comeback later on.

“So, it’s just us who are seeing Venkatesh Iyer as an all-rounder. It seems the Indian think tank, the team management and the leadership group, they don’t see him as an all-rounder is the understanding or feeling you get from the outside.”

He added that if Iyer is truly viewed as a batting option only, then there are better players for the role of a specialist batter in the India XI.

“It’s now his 4th game for India and he has been on the field for close to 110 overs, he has bowled I think only 2-3 overs and that too in a dead rubber. I can’t make head or tail of it. If he is not going to bowl, then play either Suryakumar Yadav or Ishan Kishan.”

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