Unlike the struggles of youngsters wanting to take up cricket in small towns, Shreyas Iyer, one of the most promising talents from Mumbai, has had an altogether different journey to the top. In a city that sees lakhs of aspiring cricketers work hard to make a mark, the 18-year-old has defied Khadoos cricket and caught attention with his aggressive strokeplay. Aayush Puthran profiles one of India’s young sensations.
“He never discussed cricket with me. Like every other day, he called me up on Thursday too and among all the talks, he unusually said that watch out tomorrow, I’ll score a ton,” Mrs Iyer recounted a conversation that she had over the phone with her son Shreyas just a day before he would go on to score a blistering 67-ball 109 against Australia in the Under-19 series at Visakhapatnam.
The call to her came just a few minutes after he had spoken to his best friend Prathamesh Samant, to whom he had made a similar promise. It was an unusual expression coming from an 18-year-old who is a reserved person by nature. But, it was a sign of a confident player, who knew his game was speaking for him.
Opportunity knocked at Shreyas’s door just at the right time. He was drafted into the Indian Under-19 team after a successful batch under the leadership of Unmukt Chand had graduated with the highest laurel, winning the World Cup last year. The fact that Shreyas followed up his selection with three centuries and a half-century in the Cooch Behar Trophy, “the turning point of his career,” as his father Santosh would say, later in the year, only made 2012 a more memorable year for him.
Trained under the watchful eyes of former India player Praveen Amre at Shivaji Park Gymkhana (SPG), Shreyas’s talent was spotted right at the start of his career. “The natural talent was evident right from the beginning and hence we gave more attention to his game,” Amre stated. His coach was convinced that the 12-year old boy had it in him to play with the senior players at the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA). However, he was rejected because it was believed that he was too young and his game would get hampered if he suffered at such a tender age.
Shreyas had picked up the bat for the first time at the age of four, and in all the clumsiness, had the knack to middle the ball. His father, who was himself a college-level cricketer, was all but too proud to watch his son inclined towards the sport.
A natural player on the on-side, Shreyas developed his off-side shots as the years progressed with Amre keeping a close eye on his flaws.
“There was little distraction in his life that could hamper his growth as a cricketer. Even when he would sit idle with nothing to do, he would force his mother or grandmother to come out to throw the ball at him,” his father said before his mother could quickly add, “sometimes, even at 2 or 3 PM in the afternoon.”
Pointing towards a ball suspended from the ceiling, with a cloth used as a sling, his father added, “He still comes home and knocks the ball around, every time he feels there is nothing to do or no comedy serial to catch up on the television.”
But cricket hasn’t been his only love. Shreyas loves watching travel shows by the day and comedy serials before going to bed. He loves his Electronic Dance Music as much as he loves his photography. “You will often find him behind the camera or posing for someone,” his friend Samay Lalwani said.
When it comes to food, surprisingly for a Tamil Brahmin, he loves to have his share of chicken. But those are not exactly the most awkward dots one can join in his life. He loves football and his favourite club is Chelsea. His favourite footballer, though, is Cristiano Ronaldo. And one of his possessions includes a Barcelona jersey. But such has been the paradox of his personality!
Apart from cricket, he has been good at other sports as well, especially at badminton and table tennis at school-level. He also continues to be an active footballer.
“When he was 10 years old, I had asked him to set his priorities right between football and cricket and he accepted the latter without a second thought,” his father said.
However, till today, his friends vouch for his talents as a footballer. “He plays as a striker,” his friend Lalwani said before adding, “Much unlike his personality which is very subdued, his game is extremely aggressive. Whether it is cricket or football, it is almost like he saves up all the energy for his game.”
Lalwani isn’t the only one talking about Shreyas’s attacking game. His teammates at SPG, former and current coaches and those who have seen him, have all given accounts for his splendid strokeplay. One of the popular stories that does the round is that one of his teammates’ father at SPG would rush to the ground if he knew Shreyas would be coming out to bat.
On being asked whether his love for playing attacking cricket, which has also been his undoing many a times, has resulted in him earning the coaches ire, Amre said, “There was no point in curbing his natural game unnecessarily. He looked in balance while playing his shots which was more important.”
Over the years, he went on to train under various coaches including Padmakar Shivalkar, Sandesh K and Vinod Raghavan among others, but it was Raghavan who burdened him with more responsibility and put him under stern test.
“Vinod Raghavan was the one who made him hold the strings and take more responsibility. He handed him the captaincy for the first time and showed faith in him. A large part of the credit for the change in him as a cricketer goes to Raghavan sir,” his father said.
Following that he underwent a good period as he scored heavily for his clubs in various tournaments and graduated swiftly from Under-13 to Under-16. His fielding, too improved greatly and he emerged as one of the finest fielders in the team.
However, it was in 2009 that his lean patch started. Self doubt crept in as he got rejected in a few selection trials. However, his father soon realised it and took the services of Mumbai based sports psychologist Mugdha Bavare.
There was a definite change in his mental approach from thereon as his father thinks. “That certainly helped as there was a marked difference in his attitude. He looked more confident and positive. Although he continued to score runs for the next two years, he was being rejected in more selection trials than he would’ve liked. His performances for college earned him the Best Player of the Year for Podar last year and this year too, his efforts were critical in helping them win the inter-college cricket tournament.”
“However, the selectors at both Mumbai level and national selectors have shown faith in his ability and with his selection for the Mumbai probables and the Under-19 squad, things are looking bright by God’s grace. Hope his ultimate dream of playing for India is realised soon.”
(Aayush Puthran is a reporter with CricketCountry. Mercurially jovial, pseudo pompous, perpetually curious and occasionally confused, he is always up for a light-hearted chat over a few cups of filter kaapi!)