He holds a post-graduate degree in financial management. He wants to pursue a course in sports management. He works with the Income Tax office during the off-season. He is a science geek, who is fascinated by artificial intelligence, robotics, algorithms on how stock markets work and how air fares rise and fall.

He's a big fan of the Golden State Warriors and the NBA. Reading is his passion - he can reel out what he particularly enjoyed from books on Steve Jobs, the former Apple CEO, Elon Musk, the co-founder of Tesla, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, and Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of Huffington Post. Amidst all this, he can play cricket too.

Welcome to the life of Priyank Panchal, the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy's highest run-getter, who has transformed from an underachiever to a promising opener, and after eight years of domestic cricket, has finally forged an identity. His previous best season tally was 665, in 2015-16, "far from enough" by his standards. This season, he's nearly doubled that courtesy five centuries, the most by a Gujarat batsman.

With Gujarat having entered their first final in 66 years, Panchal will have possibly two shots at surpassing VVS Laxman's 1415 runs - the most in one season in the tournament's 83-year history - which he tallied in 1999-00. Panchal needs 146 more to set the new record. Only Vijay Bharadwaj, and Shreyas Iyer, who topped the charts during Mumbai's title-winning run in 2015-16, have scored more in a season.

Understanding his game, Panchal says, has been the biggest difference, and it wasn't always the case. His game awareness stood out, most notably in Lahli against Railways. In conditions that have traditionally assisted swing and seam bowling, he made a 138-ball 101 to set the tone for Gujarat's 294-run win, in just their second game. "Survival would have been tough, so I had to go after the bowling," he says of the knock.

Then, Panchal became Gujarat's first triple-centurion in first-class cricket when he made an unbeaten 314 against Punjab. On a seaming track in Nagothane, against a quality Madhya Pradesh attack, he made a defiant 62, a knock he values highly amidst the big scores. He missed out on a century in the quarter-final, but top-scored with 149 in the semi-final against Jharkhand in Nagpur.

What has led to this change? "The focus is not that much on technique now, personally," he says. "I have confidence that if I spend time at the crease, I will score runs. When I spent time at NCA in my junior days, there was a lot of emphasis on change in technique, but it wasn't working. My reasoning was if I spend so much time on technique, how will I be able to focus on runs? I've felt I need to hone my natural ability. Apart from that, the mental aspect is important - which bowlers do you line up, which bowler you try and play out? The situational awareness has helped me."

When Panchal debuted as an 18-year old in 2008, he was so shy and overawed by being in the Gujarat dressing room that interactions with his team-mates were restricted to the field. Off it, he was full of self-doubt if cricket alone would guarantee him a future, because of circumstances - he lost his father at the age of 15 and had to "financially settle" to ease the burden on his family. It showed in his performances too. The odd spark of brilliance was surrounded by a run of low scores.

Seven years on, the man who could hardly mumble a few words to his captain, is now often consulted and merits respect as a senior player. The confidence and assurance he possesses today are a result of some conscious changes he has made to his game over the years. The changes are visible now. They have come about because of greater awareness of not just cricket, but life and developing of interests that stretch far beyond the 22 yards.

"On tours, I'm free after we are back to the hotel. I realised very early that it was important to have other interests besides cricket," he says. "When I was 19, I was an introvert. Talking to people was a big problem, so my mother enrolled me in a personality development course where I was taught about the need to develop interests. I couldn't move beyond a page then. I was hardly into science, but over the years, it has just changed the way I look at things. I feel empty if I don't have books by my side."

Reading apart, Panchal also maintains a diary - he's nearly filled nine of them since he first started writing in 2009. It's very personal to him, one he digs into when in doubt, or just to feel good about himself. It's a mix of his dismissals, his highs, his lows, and how he wriggled out of different situations. "I write about journalists, and recently about interviews too," he laughs. "What were the kind of questions I was asked, was I comfortable answering and all those things.

"Basically, I felt I needed to have something which I can look back years later, something that would give me joy. So I wanted to capture moments in my diary along with photographs. My coach kept asking me to write a diary, just to record my thoughts about life in general. I did it for three-four months, and slowly, it became part of my life. Sometimes, when I've been stuck in tough situations, I open my diary to see what I did when I was in a similar situation previously. That boosts me from within."

Panchal's tryst with competitive cricket came in 2008 when he went to Mumbai on a sports scholarship offered by Indian Oil Corporation. He wasn't guaranteed too many games in the competitive times, but Ajinkya Rahane's late pull-out from a game gave him an opportunity. He made 60, and coach Sulakshan Kulkarni was impressed. Later in the season, he made his Gujarat debut.

"The pitches were such that, as an opener, you had to work hard for your runs," he says. "There was spongy bounce and the bowlers were pretty quick. At that age, it was a big match for me. It showed me how to build an innings and how Mumbai cricket was. They play aggressively, but at the same time can slow down the game too. It was great to interact with a legend like Wasim Jaffer."

He was also attracted by Rahul Dravid's routine and match preparation, which he has tried to bring to his game. "I met him during the Under-15s and Under-17s at NCA because he used to train there. At the time, there was only general talk with him, no personal talk as such. I was very shy then, and would get nervous approaching him.

"But I saw how he practiced. He replicated a match situation. He stayed there from 9 to 4, scheduled his lunch and snacks as per the match timings. That attracted me a lot. I haven't written this in my diary, but it is in my mind. The picture is crystal clear."

Despite being in the limelight, Panchal doesn't want to get carried away. His next target is India A, one that is firmly in his path should he continue scoring runs. Given the season he has had, a place in Rest of India's squad for the Irani Cup against the Ranji Trophy champions can't be ruled out either, if Gujarat lose the final. For now, he's simply living in the present, and not thinking of selection calls. "I try to ensure it doesn't affect my game," he says. "One thousand is a lot of runs, I actually didn't realise when I crossed the landmark. I can say that my hard work is paying off now."

For Panchal, there wouldn't be a better way to top off a bumper season than with a historic Gujarat win, one he is willing to trade his runs for because "that is the ultimate high" as far as Indian domestic cricket goes.