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Yashasvi Jaiswal: 'I'm so tough mentally because I have to be on my toes all the time'

He made a mark in U-19 cricket and as a big-hitting opener in the IPL. Now he's looking to take that into first-class cricket

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Yashasvi Jaiswal looks on during the India nets session, JB Marks Oval, Potchefstroom,  February 03, 2020

"Nobody will believe in you if you don't believe in yourself"  •  Jan Kruger/ICC/Getty Images

At less than 21 years of age, Yashasvi Jaiswal has seen plenty of the challenges life can throw at a person. Ten years ago he moved from Bhadohi, a town in rural Uttar Pradesh, to Mumbai to pursue cricket. He couldn't afford a roof over his head, so he slept in tents, ate two meals a day, and often survived on glucose biscuits. When pocket money was tight, he would help sell pani puri near Azad maidan to make ends meet.
As he looks back now at those days of struggle and sacrifice, Jaiswal says that his biggest accomplishment has been giving his parents and family "a comfortable life".
"The journey I've had, that will stay with me for life," he says, ahead of the Ranji Trophy semi-finals where his side, Mumbai, take on UP, the state he came from. "And that will always give me confidence. It's not that I have got something now [financially], and so I will think differently.
"I still think the same and I stay the same. I haven't made any extraordinary changes in my life, and I am not going to either. I want to move forward in the same way I've done so far. I know how much hard work and dedication it takes to achieve what you want. So I will be like that. I know myself.
"I am so blessed. Thank you, God, and thank you cricket. Seriously."
Jaiswal's languid cover-drives and ferocious cuts made him a batting sensation at the Under-19 World Cup two years ago, where he was the top run scorer, with 400 runs from six games. One of three players Rajasthan Royals retained ahead of this year's tournament, Jaiswal brings to the Ranji season the confidence from a productive IPL, where he formed a fearsome opening combination with "Jos bhai" [Jos Buttler].
"It was amazing batting with him," Jaiswal says. "We talk a lot - maybe not in the middle but outside the ground. He just tells me simple and clear things that I need to do. If he says something, I trust him and follow it, and it helps me. I was very happy batting with him. He just says, 'Play good cricketing shots' and I try to follow it."
Over the years, Jaiswal's approach to batting has undergone a transformation, and so have his demeanour and mindset. No longer shy and reserved as he used to be, he is a vibrant presence in the dressing room and around team-mates. Ask him about this and you elicit a smile.
"Bhai, now I've seen cameras so much in the IPL, that fear has gone," he says. "I used to feel shy thinking, 'What will I say?' Now there is more confidence.
"My best feeling was when I gave an interview after the first match in the U-19 World Cup. I had to give it in English. That was the funniest. I did well [in the match] and then when I did the interview and went to the dressing room, everyone was laughing. I was really struggling!"
Jaiswal has so far featured in just two Ranji Trophy matches for Mumbai, three years apart. In his most recent outing, he made an aggressive second-innings hundred for them against Uttarakhand this season. Being back in the Mumbai dressing room elicited a "happy feeling" once again, he says.
Three years ago in Bengaluru, he set the 50-overs Vijay Hazare Trophy alight with his batting. He became the youngest to score a double-hundred in the competition, and blasted 564 runs in six innings at an average of 112.50.
That was followed by the barnstorming U-19 World Cup performance, but soon after he returned from South Africa, where India finished runners-up, Covid-19 hit India and the rest of the world. Like thousands of age-group cricketers, Jaiswal was thrown into uncertainty.
"I didn't do anything, stayed home, ate and slept," he remembers. "Watched day turn into night and night turn into day! My body clock had changed. I would sleep in the morning and wake up at night.
"There was nothing available to train - Bandra Kurla Complex wasn't open, no grounds were open. I was wary of running on the road. You would hear of people falling sick from here and there, and everyone was a little scared. My family wouldn't let me go out. They were like, 'You might get it [Covid] and from you, someone else at home might get it. You're young, you'll manage, but what about the older people?' So, I listened to them."
When cricket eventually resumed with the IPL in September 2020, Jaiswal found it tough going. He featured in all of three games, scoring 40 at less than a run a ball for Royals. "I hadn't played for seven-eight months. I had a shoulder injury. And during the lockdown there wasn't much practice either. Then suddenly to go in a high-competition game…
"I think wherever you play, whichever format, you need some experience and time to understand. Some people get it at the first go itself, but some need to take time and learn. It's okay, everyone has their own methods to learn."
Back to his best, Jaiswal is now on a quest to cover some of the ground he lost. A good IPL, where he made 258 runs from ten games at a strike rate of 132, has been a springboard into a Ranji Trophy campaign he hopes will culminate in a final, and hopefully title No. 42 for Mumbai. They last won in 2015-16 and haven't come close since. This is their chance and Jaiswal wants to be front and centre.
"You need to keep scoring runs, that's the thing with Mumbai cricket," he says, when you ask him for his take on the fabled Mumbai school of batting. "That's why I'm so tough mentally, because I know I must be on my toes all the time.
"I think this Ranji Trophy match [against Uttarakhand] was very important for me. I got a chance to play after three games. So, for me, it's important, these performances. When I played in the IPL. I played three games, then I got dropped for seven games and then I came back again and started playing.
"Same thing for this [Ranji] match also, because in the three league matches, I was out, and now I came back, and in my mind I was like, 'I need to do it, I need to do it.' I was playing well in the first innings, but I just got out playing a bad shot.
"Thanks to the Mumbai team that they've shown faith in me and given me a chance to keep playing. They believed I can do the job for them, and I am ready."
In the IPL earlier this year, being a retained player didn't guarantee him a spot in the first XI. It wasn't until the second half of the competition that he truly made a mark with his big hitting in the powerplay. He ended with a strike rate of 137 in those latter seven games.
"I never doubted myself," he says of the time he was on the bench. "I kept believing and trusting that I will do it. That was the best thing. I think I'm very strong mentally. Nobody will believe in you if you don't believe in yourself."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo