Rajinikanth fan is IPL hero

Venkatesh Iyer could have been a high-flying management professional. Instead the Rajinikanth fan chose the cricket path.

He is now making spectators sit up and take notice that he is a special talent with a spectacular start to his Indian Premier League (IPL) career.

The 1.93m-tall left-hander, featuring for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), scored an unbeaten 41 on his debut against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the United Arab Emirates - helping KKR to a nine-wicket win on Sept 20.

In his next match against the fancied Mumbai Indians on Sept 23, the 26-year-old smashed 53 as KKR completed another successful chase, this time winning by eight wickets.

"(Tamil film superstar) Rajinikanth's favourite dialogue 'My path is a different path' is my life's motto," said Venkatesh, after his second match-winning knock in Abu Dhabi. "I'm his diehard fan.

"My life's biggest moment would be when I meet him. I've seen each and every Rajini starrer."

Like Rajinikanth, who chose a shot at films after starting off as a bus conductor, Venkatesh decided to pursue a career in cricket - much against the wishes of his family members who are doctors, engineers, teachers and finance professionals.

Born in a Tamil-speaking family in Indore, the player, who represents Madhya Pradesh in domestic cricket, was once a chartered accountancy aspirant. But he decided to skip the final examination in order to focus on cricket.

"I decided to give up my CA and pursue an MBA in finance," he told ESPNCricinfo. "Honestly, I didn't have to put in a lot of effort to manage both (studies and cricket).

"I'm not bragging, I've always been a bright student. Had there been no cricket, I would have landed in an IIT or IIM (prestigious institute)."

His father Rajasekaran Iyer was against him becoming a cricketer. But his mother Usha, a head nurse at the Apollo Hospital in Indore, enrolled him at the Maharaja Yeshwantrao Cricket Club in Indore after she saw that he was adamant about becoming a cricketer.

"He is a natural talent. He has brilliant hand-eye coordination," the academy's coach Dinesh Sharma told the Times of India. "That's his weapon. The way he was hitting the balls at the trials, it was amazing. I immediately knew this guy is keen to learn and needs someone who can show him the way.

"I asked him if he is serious about playing cricket. He said, 'Coach, I will do everything to be a good cricketer and I won't disappoint you'.

Venkatesh was a lower-middle-order batsman, but had a hard-hitting style. During a tournament in Indore, Dinesh asked him to open the innings.

"He was nervous but he scored a century, a 98 and one match-winning 50," said the coach. "I was confident that he would do well, but never expected such a show from him. Sine then, he became our regular opener. I call him the modern-day Yuvraj Singh (former Indian cricketer who was known for his aggressive and elegant stroke play and match winning all-round performances)."

A similar story played out in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (India's domestic Twenty20 championship) last season when Madhya Pradesh coach Chandrakant Pandit asked him to open the innings.

Venkatesh blasted 227 runs in five innings at a strike rate of 149.34. Later, in the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy, he walloped 198 in 146 balls against Punjab.

That knock got everyone's attention and soon he was asked to fly to Mumbai for the KKR trials. And he was signed up by the franchise.

"KKR was the first franchise I wanted to get in, purely because (former India captain) Sourav Ganguly was the captain initially. Got picked by KKR, that was a dreamy moment," Venkatesh said.

"I used to bat right-handed when I was very young. I wanted to replicate Dada (Ganguly). The way he hit sixes, the way he bowled, I think he has played a huge role unknowingly in my life."

KKR's decision to ask Venkatesh, who is also a handy medium-pace bowler, to open the innings with the established Shubman Gill has produced rich results for the two-time IPL champions.

"We were trying to fit Iyer into the XI with a lot of talented guys and it's fantastic with the manner he has scored runs," KKR skipper Eoin Morgan told Star Sports. "We never put a number on him, on how many games he will get.

"The way he came in and played was outstanding. Certainly, the brand of cricket we want to play... this is the aggressive nature of cricket we want to play."

Indo-Asian News Service

"Rajinikanth's favourite dialogue

'My path is a different path' is my life's motto. I'm his diehard fan."

- Venkatesh Iyer


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