Yashasvi Jaiswal is the current top-scorer of the tournament and is waving the Indian flag high at the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup in South Africa.

Aritra Mukherjee
Hindustan Times, New Delhi

From a prodigy in domestic cricket to making it big on the U-19 international scene, Yashasvi Jaiswal has come a long way as he slammed a majestic century against Pakistan to fire India into final of the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup in South Africa. He is also the current top-scorer of the tournament and is waving the Indian flag high. Jaiswal, however, became the talk of the town after his heroics in the Vijay Hazare trophy late last year where he became the youngest to score a double hundred in 50-over cricket. His rise from an extremely humble background makes for yet another amazing story in Indian cricket. Here are excerpts from an interview that Jaiswal gave to Hindustan Times before leaving for the tournament.

“Abhi tu goggles pahen sakta hai…” The words were music to Jaiswal’s ears, not the ones which kept blaring when he tried to sleep in a tent, not the ones which echoed when he toiled hard to make ends meet. It was music, the one which the mind hums when dreams collide with reality. The world record of being the youngest to score a double hundred in 50-overs cricket, three centuries in 5 innings on his debut season in India’s premier one-day tournament, congratulatory messages from the who’s who of Mumbai cricket, it surpassed them all. 17-year-old Yashasvi Jaiswal had finally ‘earned’ the rights of wearing shades on the cricket field.

“I never wore goggles… Sometimes while fielding in the slips, the ‘keeper or a teammate would give me theirs and I would place them on my hat but I never put them on. Sir didn’t allow me to wear goggles but after my double century today, he finally gave me permission,” Yashasvi told Hindustan Times, referring to his conversation with childhood coach Jwala Singh, after scoring 203 off 154 balls in a Vijay Hazare Trophy Elite Group A match against Jharkhand in Alur last year.

To understand the gravity of it, one has to go six years back to the days when an 11-year-old Yashasvi travelled to Mumbai from Bhadohi – a town in Uttar Pradesh – with dreams of playing cricket at the highest level. “Finding a place to stay was the hard part. I used to sleep in a dairy in Kalbadevi but they asked me to move out as I couldn’t help them much with the daily work. My parents requested my uncle to help me. I stayed at his place for a few days but it wasn’t big enough so he too had to ask me to find a different place,” Yashasvi recalled, not with remorse but with the satisfaction of a battle-hardened warrior.

The good thing his uncle did was to refer him to the Muslim United Club, where they had tents. For the next three years, those tents were Yashasvi’s home. The heat in summers would sometimes make it unbearable so he would sleep outside to get fresh air. While the nights were full of hardships, the days weren’t as bad as Yashasvi would spend most of his time on the cricket field. But he needed money to survive. “I was staying in a tent alright but I had no money to buy food. So I started selling paani puri during Ram Leela. I also did scoring, became a ball boy even when I was not asked to. Basically, I did everything through which I could earn money,” Yashasvi said.

On a December morning in 2013 Yashasvi was spotted in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan by Jwala Singh, a former Junior Mumbai cricketer and now a coach. Impressed by Yashasvi’s strokeplay on a damp pitch against ‘A division’ fast bowlers, Jwala invited him for a meeting. “The determination and temperament separated him from the rest. And when I heard his story, it reminded of my own. Still, it was not an easy choice to ask someone to stay at your own place but I took the call,” said Jwala Singh, who himself came to Mumbai from Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh back in 1995 to pursue his cricketing dreams but was stopped in his tracks due to multiple injuries.

From that day till now, Yashasvi stays with Jwala at his place as a family member. Their journey kept going hand in hand.

The effects of a permanent home and satisfied stomach started to reflect on Yashasvi’s game. 15 days after he started training with Jwala, he smashed 319 and picked up 12 wickets in a Giles Shield match and backed that up with another double ton and 12 wicket match-haul. Soon came his first gift, a helmet.

“Nothing came easy for me. Sir will always tell me that I have to earn everything. It was never about the money but the satisfaction when you get something after an achievement is immense,” Yashasvi said giving a peep to his matured brain on a teen structure.

With power-packed performance in school cricket, Yashasvi broke into the junior Mumbai sides and soon was named in India’s U-19 team for the Sri Lank tour. He didn’t succeed in his first two games but came back with a superb 114. He used the learning of that Sri Lanka tour on the following Asia Cup to immerge as the Player of the Tournament. Since then there has been no looking back for the left-hander. He also made his Ranji Trophy debut last season and achieved the rare feat of playing junior cricket and first-class in the same season.

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In the lead up to the Vijay Hazare Trophy, he hit four half-centuries for India U-19 in the tri-nation series against England and Bangladesh in England. He scored 294 runs in seven innings at an average of 42 and a strike rate of 74.05, finishing fourth on the run-scorers’ list.

Before the double hundred, he had already scored two centuries in 4 matches of Vijay Hazare Trophy.

Against an attack led by Varun Aaron, once regarded as one of the fastest bowlers in the country and veteran left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem, Yashasvi smashed 12 sixes and 17 fours on his way to breaking South African Alan Barrow’s record of being the youngest to notch up a double ton in List A cricket.

“I just saw the ball and hit it, mujhe kya pata bowler kaun tha and thankfully it all came out well.” His inexperience in talking to media evident but his searing confidence overpowers it all.

Of all the boundaries he hit over covers, mid-off, mid-wicket, the shots straight down the ground were his favourite. “I love to play the straight drive. It was favourite shot of Sachin Tendulkar and I admire him the most.”

“I don’t know what’s in store for me… Mujhe bas ye pata hai ki agar main apna present thik rakhunga to future apne aap sahi ho jayega,” added Yashasvi with the promise that goggles won’t be the last gift he would ‘earn’ on the cricket field.

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