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Match Analysis

Jaiswal bats like a seasoned pro for fairytale debut

In conditions that called for experienced heads, the 21-year-old looked right at home

Fairytales aren't supposed to feel inevitable, but those contradictory words may have collided in your brain while watching the West Indies-India Test on Thursday, when Yashasvi Jaiswal went from 99 to 100 with a shot off Alick Athanaze that was one-third sweep, one-third flick, and one-third pull.
The fairytale aspect kicked in when Jaiswal pulled his helmet off, raised his arms, and grinned the stubble-free grin of a 21-year-old who still looks 18. It was at this point that it really sunk in, the fact that this fresh-faced youth was playing Test cricket for the first time.
Until then you had watched the innings of an old pro. It had felt inevitable that he would get to three figures.
This was remarkable, because conditions in Dominica were of the kind where centuries were possible but debut centuries unlikely. The pitch was slow, offering both turn and spongy bounce, and the outfield even slower. These were conditions where Virat Kohli went 80 balls before hitting his first boundary.
These were conditions for old, experienced heads.
And yet it had felt inevitable, once he had found his bearings, that Jaiswal would score a century.
There have always been cricketers who arrive at the highest level with the promise of instant and overwhelming success. They may or may not live up to the promise, but there's always something that sets them apart from the rest. With Pat Cummins it was the sense that he was the complete fast-bowling package, physically and mentally, at just 18. With Rohit Sharma, the man who crossed Jaiswal when he ran his century-completing single, it was the sense that he had an extra split-second to play his shots.
With Jaiswal it isn't primarily a visual thing - though there's a pleasing naturalness to his game - but the feeling that he has an innate understanding not just of the mechanics of batting but the business of run-scoring as well. I mean, look at that first-class record. Before he got his India cap, he had averaged 80.21. He had reached the half-century mark 11 times in 26 innings, and gone on to score hundreds on nine of those 11 occasions. He could have made it 10 out of 11 had there been a little more time left in the game when he made an unbeaten 60-ball 66 in the fourth innings of Mumbai's drawn Ranji Trophy match against Tamil Nadu in January.
Jaiswal had faced 200-plus balls in six first-class innings before this one. He clearly came to Test cricket with the physical and mental resources to play long innings.
If most of your previous Jaiswal-watching experience had been in the IPL, his innings against West Indies was full of new revelations. The most remarkable thing about Jaiswal in the IPL is how little time he takes, in innings after innings, to start finding the gaps. In IPL 2023 he scored an astonishing 110 runs in first overs - more than a sixth of his season's total of 625 - while striking at 174.60; the next-best strike rate among batters who scored at least 20 runs in first overs was 140.
In Dominica he batted with a lot less fluency, thanks to the slowness of the surface. He hit drives straight to fielders, he hit balls back to the bowler when he was looking to punch through the covers, and he was beaten while trying to sweep and getting through his shot too early - on one occasion the ball bounced more than expected and hit his helmet.
But he shrugged these moments off, and faced up again with seemingly no thought in his head other than watching the ball. His technique allows him to watch the ball as well as anyone; his eyes always seem perfectly aligned, as if there's a spirit level within his head. Balance flows downwards from the head, and while it's a key ingredient for all batters, it's particularly vital for a left-hand batter who faces a lot of bowling angled across him.
Watching the ball closely with the steadiest of heads, Jaiswal was prepared to take as much time as he needed to score his runs. He took 16 balls to get off the mark. He began day two by shouldering arms five times in a row against Jason Holder. In all, he left alone or defended 82 of the 155 balls he faced from the fast bowlers.
He was prepared to bide his time against spin as well. Having hit seven fours while scoring his first 51 runs off 104 balls, he hit no boundaries and scored just 19 runs off his next 80 balls, a period during which Rahkeem Cornwall and Jomel Warrican tested him and Rohit constantly with turn and bounce.
Cornwall troubled Jaiswal more than any other West Indies bowler. In an innings where he achieved an overall control percentage of just under 87, he went at 75 against the big offspinner. The fact that Cornwall spent the second and third sessions off the field with a chest infection was one of the many things that made a Jaiswal century seem inevitable.
Given the slowness of the pitch and the fact that West Indies, who had been bowled out for 150 on day one, were in damage-control mode for most of India's innings, the biggest challenge Jaiswal faced may not have always come from the bowlers. Apart from Cornwall's pre-lunch spell, Jaiswal's technique was perhaps most tested during short bursts of short-pitched bowling from Alzarri Joseph, but the ball seldom rose above waist height, and usually lost most of its steam if it did.
Often, Jaiswal's main challenge seemed to be one of self-control. West Indies used nine bowlers, and their part-timers eventually sent down 24 of the 113 overs that India faced in the first two days. Against the four part-timers, Jaiswal scored 30 off 87 balls, hitting just one four. While they were less likely to get him out than the five frontline bowlers, he recognised that they were going to be no less difficult to score off, and made no special effort to force the pace against them.
He was happy as long as he was still out there, batting. The runs he scored were the byproduct of his continued presence in the middle, as were the milestones and records he accumulated. By stumps, he had faced more balls than any of India's previous debut centurions (though balls-faced data isn't available for all their innings).
And he is by no means done yet. Whether it's this Test match or his career, Jaiswal has all the time in the world to keep filling his boots.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo