The narrow lane outside his coach’s house is crowded with students streaming out of a nearby school. Just like any other regular Mumbai late afternoon. Yashasvi Jaiswal, India’s new teenaged cricket star who tallied 400 runs in the U-19 world cup in South Africa, sits cross-legged on the living-room floor, having lunch.
In the adjacent bedroom, an unpleasant news lies — his Man of the World Cup trophy sits on a table, broken in two pieces. He can’t recollect how it happened but more revealingly, he isn’t upset. He just shrugs. His coach Jwala Singh pipes up: “This isn’t the first time! He cares more about runs, doesn’t fuss too much about trophies”.
His parents land up later in the evening from Bhadohi in Uttar Pradesh. The mother frets about his weight loss. “Kitna sukh gaya hai tu! (You have shrivelled!), don’t you eat properly?” Jaiswal smiles about it later, “how can I make her understand about fitness?!” Perhaps, he should tell them about his weakness for “cold drinks”. Both parents are understandably proud and delighted with his success. Jaiswal’s scores in the World Cup read: 88, 105*, 62, 57*, 29*, 59.
What was Jaiswal’s take away from World Cup? Loss in final not being “end of the world”, teenage weakness for “cold drink” that he wants to shed, gratitude towards coaches who set him on the path, improved understanding about his own game and a friend in London with whom he discusses everything learning English in the process.
When he left India for the tournament, Jaiswal was known for his inspiring rise out of socio-economic challenges – he sold pani puris and lived in tents of groundsmen at maidaan where he honed his game. But he returns home with enriched understanding about himself and his life. Much of his traits predate the World Cup but it too has played a part in the development.
It started with how he felt ahead of the first match. “I told sir (his coach Jwala) that I am not feeling the pressure that I faced during Vijay Hazare or Ranji Trophy”. Not that the coach was surprised. “He is like that. Sorted kid.”
Jaiswal says he realises that the road ahead would be tougher but he is aware and ready for it. “Until now, it was just age-group tournament, now that I will be in man’s world I know I have to double my hardwork.” The first casualty might well be that cold drink.
What stands out in the numerous interactions with him over the last couple of years is the ever-increasing maturity and a philosophical outlook to life. Urged by the coach, Jaiswal wakes up at dawn every day to spend some time reflecting on himself – and what he needs to do.
“I know about myself. I don’t have anything to do with the world. I have kept my life simple. Clear. I wake up around 5 am. Sir told me to use the time to talk to myself, understand myself, motivate myself. That’s what I do. It’s important that in these times, you spend time on yourself. I don’t waste time thinking about how others should understand me; I have understood myself, that’s more important,” Jaiswal says. “My fight isn’t with the world. It’s with me. My only bad habit is cold drinks, I plan to leave it now. Too much sugar. I have to get fitter. I do meditation, I have started to give more attention to fitness as its key to succeed.”
Just 18, he understand the importance of being focused.
“It is easy to get distracted in this age. You will become what you think; your thoughts make you. (Jaisa sochoge waise banoge). Some of my team-mates do tell me that I should get on to social media; I don’t see why. Since childhood, I was clear in what I wanted to do. I left my home, left all my comfort so that I can reach where I want too. I haven’t reached nowhere near to my dream of playing for India,” he says.
He suddenly jerks up. “How many Under-19 players you can recall now? This World Cup is good for exposure but we also have to see how many go on to play for India?” He knows the first step would be domestic cricket. He wanted to play Ranji Trophy but he landed on the opening day’s play between Mumbai and Madhya Pradesh. “When are the Under-23 games starting? That would be my next.”
He is grateful about the conversations with benefactors who came his way. Like Rahul Dravid, Aaashish Kapoor, and Wasim Jaffer. It was Kapoor who as the junior selector suggested that Jaiswal should play as an opener during a tournament in Sri Lanka. “I am thankful to him; else probably I won’t be here today. I didn’t have great numbers before that batting at No. 6 but he had faith in me. His decision changed my life.”
And ofcourse Dravid, who had numerous chats with him before the tournament. “Rahul sir said, my role as batsman would always keep changing depending on partner and situation. He told me to plan accordingly and to understand the tempo of the game and the team’s requirement. Those words are fresh in my mind and it helped me to build my knocks. I remember he also said, ‘this is perfect platform for you, take time, you have all the shots.”
When the teenager feels like sharing something, good or bad, he calls up his friend in London, Henry Hamilton, who had come to Mumbai with a English club a few years back and struck a friendship with Jaiswal. “I take my time to open up to people and trust them. I don’t have many close friends, Henry Hamilton is my friend. I like chatting with him. The best part of talking to him is that he speaks to me in English, so my English improves. We have become like a family. Be it low and high, I talk to him and even his mother. I have visited their house.”
The chat veers to the World Cup in particular. He regrets that India didn’t win it but says it isn’t the “end of the world”. “My sir (Jwala Singh) had given me aim to become man of the tournament, so it was Ion my mind. I batted as per situations. I know when to gear up and if sometimes I misunderstood situation than a message does come from dressing room. My moment of the tournament was the hundred against Pakistan in a winning cause.”
Before every World Cup match, Jaiswal would search for ‘motivational songs’ in English in a music app on his phone and hear them. No song in particular, he says, that genre usually does the trick. “That was my way of getting into mood. Everyone is different. Some one like Bandya (Atharv Ankolekar) has to do masti before the game; that’s his normal way to relax and prepare. I like to be quiet and calm, that helps me to focus. So I listen to songs. I do get angry in the middle but I prefer to let my bat talk.”
He feels that he erred with the shot selection in the final, where he made 88 but India tumbled after his exit. “I played a bad shot, it wasn’t needed at that time. The ball came much faster than I expected. I had got a slower ball just before that.”
He cues up a phone conversation from just before the final with Wasim Jaffer, who is playing for Vidarbha in the Ranji Trophy. “I was a bit nervous and he told me that I am doing well, and just take time in the middle. But it didn’t go our way. Nothing has changed for me, of course it would have been great if we had won it but it’s not the end of world.
“In fact, everyone was normal after defeat. Win and losses are part of the game. We lost the toss also, it had rained for two days ; had we won the toss, you never know the result could have been different.”
The match ended with a bit of heated drama when the teenagers from both teams got into a tangle of sorts. Jaiswal says he was a bit behind his team-mates and didn’t see what went down. “I was told that they (Bangladesh players) made some inappropriate gestures. Some provoked Priyam Garg too.”
The entire match was pretty intense with frequent sledging and emotions got the better of a few teenagers. “The intensity was such during the game that all thing happened. We all were desperate to win. Us and them. We sledged too. They also did. I was also praying that ‘Bhagwan, kuch kar do yaar, do something, let us win the match.”
He is jetlagged and tired and he awaits the arrival of his parents. “The only thing I know is cricket, I don’t know rest (baaki duniya-daari mujhe nahi aati). My life is those 22 yards and I am ready to do anything – be it fitness, fielding, anything – to reach my goal for playing for India.”