Shreyas Iyer – Wielding willowy wizardry from Mumbai to Clifton

Clifton is a quiet town on the countryside of Nottingham. There once famously stood the Man of Trent (a pub) and Sun Valley Amusements – both of which have run out of business long back and shut down. The Supermarkets – Morrisons, Iceland and Farmfoods are the most bustling places in the picturesque village. For anything related to sports, there is the Farnborough Road. In May 2014, a certain 20-year old Indian by the name of Shreyas Iyer was making news there.

He was all by himself, adjusting his body to the cold and his batting to the swing. Living all by himself, possibly making meals was the most arduous task for the youngster. He hadn’t played a single First-Class match. Let alone the scarce population of Clifton, he wasn’t a known name even in Mumbai cricket circles. He couldn’t become a media darling the way Sarfaraz Khan, Armaan Jaffar or Prithvi Shaw did. His greatest claim to fame was a splendid innings for 67-ball 109 against Australia Under-19. He went on to play for India in the Under-19 World Cup in 2014, but played just three matches in which he scored 161 runs, including two half-centuries.

However, back in the serene village, he was a sensation. He was hitting it big in the small grounds. Representing the Clifton Village Cricket Club, part of the Clifton University in Nottingham, he was the youngest player in the side.

Curbing his natural aggressive game, Iyer started his England journey on a good note. “The weather was fantastic, but the bowling was quite challenging where I had to learn how to leave. I got 55 in the first match and kicked on from there,” Iyer said.

“(Pravin) Amre sir helped me a lot as he worked on my stance and suggested some changes in the way I position my shoulder. It apparently helps to cut the seam of the ball,” he added.

The facilities on offer weren’t the greatest. There were no coaches to preside over matters, just a manager to handle the affairs of the side. The fact that there were just 11 players, meant there were no selection dilemmas either, unless a player was injured or unavailable due to other reasons.

However, with the passing of each match, he raised his game. In his words, he thrived in the responsibility that was offered to him. “I love taking responsibility and I loved it when I captained Mumbai in the U-19.” In 12 matches, he struck four centuries and even bagged 21 wickets with his leg spinners. With softer grounds on offer, he became quite a hit with the locals at Clifton for his superb fielding at covers.

“They took care of me very well.  I had to cook for myself. It was a fantastic life lesson too as I had to take responsibility off it.”

He returned from England and submitted a report to the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA). On the first match for Mumbai since his return, he struck a 60-ball 133 in Buchi Babu. He was optimistic of his chances of making it through to the Mumbai Ranji side. He hoped to get picked by one of the franchises as well in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Iyer’s wishes came true in a matter of months. Not only did he play for Mumbai in Ranji Trophy, he bailed them out from a situation of a possible elimination in the group stages to helping them reach the semi-finals.

In the 2015 IPL auctions, he was bagged for a whooping Rs 2.6 crore. He still continues to remain a lesser-known figure in his hustle of his hometown Mumbai. Quite ironically, 4,5111 miles away from there, he has become a popular and loved figure. The exploits of Shreyas Santosh Iyer still linger fresh in the memory of the locals in the quaint village of Clifton.

(Aayush Puthran is currently a reporter with India.com. He has previously worked as a cricket journalist with CricketCountry and as an Associate Producer with Sony Six. 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!)

(R Vishal is a journalist, beach lover, Chelsea FC fan and a wannabe globetrotter. Being a loyal student of the Tariq Iqbal school of cricket stopped him from fulfilling his dream of becoming a cricketer. Now, he just writes and talks about the game; He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)