Shreyas Gopal opens up on cricket and life after cathartic quarter-final century
The Karnataka allrounder on dealing with setbacks, conversations with Brian Lara, and much more
For most of his career, Shreyas Gopal has occupied a precarious place in the Karnataka side, the allrounder who makes way should the team decide to strengthen its bowling or lengthen its batting. But on Wednesday, that feeling wasn't there, because Shreyas batted like a dream and brought up a superb century, his first in the Ranji Trophy since the 2017-18 season.
It was his fifth overall in first-class cricket, and it helped Karnataka swell their lead to a mammoth 358 at stumps on the second day of their Ranji Trophy quarter-final against Uttarakhand in Bengaluru. Victory, and a berth in the semi-finals, seem a formality now.
"It was good. Felt good," Shreyas said with a big smile after the day's play ended. "The nerves were there, I would be lying if I say it wasn't there. Because I got out on 95 [against Rajasthan] and very weirdly I started panicking a little bit in the 40s because I got out on 48 in the Kerala game. Those nerves were there. I went back and when I was practising, some [age-group cricketers] were there, when I met them, they just told me - bhaiyya [brother], when you're close to 90, try and push a little bit, aur maar do [and hit out] (laughs)."
For Shreyas, the knock couldn't have come at a better time, especially because he's hardly had a role to play with the ball this season. It can get to you as a player, perhaps more so if you're a veteran of 74 first-class matches. To Shreyas's credit, he's kept his chin up and has delivered when called upon.
Now 29, Shreyas has encountered every challenge a professional cricketer can face. He's battled injuries, losses of form and crises of confidence. He has experienced the highs of winning the Ranji Trophy back-to-back, and picking up an IPL hat-trick including the wickets of AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli. He's also endured the lows of missing out on Karnataka's first XI and, earlier this year, rejection at the IPL auction.
All said, it's not like this season was going to be make or break, but he needed to compile the strong body of work the team management expects from senior players, especially because they've spoken about promoting young players and not being swayed by reputations - their decision to drop Karun Nair from the squad altogether this season being a case in point.
Shreyas came in to bat on Wednesday with Karnataka 307 for 4, already ahead by 191. And he took the attack to the bowlers right from the outset. Particularly impressive was his use of feet against spin, alternating between imperious drives through the covers and forays out of his crease to hit against the turn through midwicket. His fluency made Manish Pandey, flamboyant at the best of times, look a tad mellow.
After he brought up the hundred, it was as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Arms aloft, with a smile big enough to hurt his jaw, he walked off a satisfied man. Later, Shreyas didn't mince words when asked about having to prove himself constantly as an allrounder. He spoke candidly about dealing with rejection and fighting through the low phases.
"Sometimes you do feel a little bad when things don't go your way or you're not picked or anything on those lines," he said. 'You do feel bad, and it is very natural and it's a human tendency to feel bad, to feel disappointed or to probably burst out. Everyone has their own way of dealing with it. It was hard but I am someone who has always tried to mask it to the best of my ability. I don't try and show it. I have very selected two-three people who probably see that side a little bit. Other than that, I really try and mask it. That's how I deal with it.
"But when you come to the ground, when you're with your team-mates and when you're fighting for a trophy and for victories, that somewhere down the line fades a little bit. It does keep pinching you every now and then, but when you're really in the moment, it fades away temporarily at least. So you're really trying to win as many games as possible.
"When I come out with the bat, I really want to make a difference. I want to make some hundreds, I want to make 150s, I want to probably score my first double-hundred. I get the ball; I want to take 10 wickets in a game. Why not? You've got to keep challenging yourself. You can't really sulk about those things for too long. Because that's only going to eat you up a lot more. My thought is, 'you have to come up, pull your socks up, take it on the chin. Maybe you're not just good enough at the moment, you need to double those performances, triple those performances, keep coming harder and harder and one day that door will open.' That's how I've looked at it."
Last year, Shreyas had the opportunity to learn some tricks of the trade from Brian Lara, who was mentor at Sunrisers Hyderabad. He gushes about those memories, but he's also quick to point out the others who have helped him along the way as a batter.
"There are a lot of coaches, to be honest, I'll be doing a lot of wrong if I miss out on someone's name," he said. "I think in the last 7-8 months, I've been in touch with Brian Lara a lot. His inputs when I was in SRH were quite different to what some others told me. Obviously because I was in the same team and spent hours together, [I was] trying to eat his 400- and 500-run brain. Just trying to ask him, how he ever did that.
"At 100, I am half-cooked and at 400 he still wanted to score a hundred more runs. So small things on how he batted and how he addressed situations. I am trying to add a couple of points here. I have come and discussed with a lot of other coaches on what their views are to that and try to adapt and see if that kind of paves another path in my batting, if I can make some more runs or be more effective as a batsman.
"And then with my bowling, coming in and getting a few wickets would help the team and help my cause personally. There are a lot of conversations I've been having and there are a lot of batsmen whom I've been literally worshipping growing up and I go back to watch their videos. To understand what situation they were batting [in] and how they were handling them. I've played a lot of those situations in first-class and not international cricket. But the situation is very similar. So I try to adapt what they did and what these coaches told me."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo