Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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"I'd like to give myself some credit, because I've put in the effort."
In an age where young players are coached to say the right things, Shreyanka Patil, 20, is different. There's an unmistakable confidence about her as she speaks about her rise up the ranks.
Patil was signed by Royal Challengers Bangalore on the back of an excellent domestic one-day tournament, where she was the second-highest wicket-taker for Karnataka. Five games in, she has been one of the bright spots in what has largely been a disappointing campaign for her side.
In her first WPL game, she immediately impressed with 23 off 15 balls from No. 8 against Mumbai Indians. Her range of shots and the fearlessness in executing them received plaudits from stalwarts such as Sophie Devine and Ellyse Perry. In her second outing, she performed with the ball, picking 2 for 32 against Gujarat Giants. That she got the opportunity to bat at No. 6 in her most recent outing, against Delhi Capitals, was further validation of her batting potential.
"Players like Shreyanka, she is no doubt going to play for India in the years to come," Devine had said after her WPL debut. "Seeing what she can do with the ball and how she struck the ball, I think I need to go to her for six-hitting guide."
Patil is an offspinner but gushes about having the mind of a fast bowler who can bowl yorkers on demand. She has a small build but doesn't let that come in the way of hitting big sixes. As a fielder, she has a lively presence inside the ring. All these attributes are much welcome in any T20 outfit, but Patil doesn't want to be "any player".
"X-factor player," Patil says with a grin. "That's what I want to be. That's what I train for. That's what I've been taught to be. You have to be different, right? That's how you get noticed."
It is this "being different" that convinced Patil's father, Rajesh, that she was talented. He noticed her unwavering concentration while playing with a hanging ball for hours together at the cricket academy he ran, where she played for five years.
She had a penchant to time the ball but grew up hearing about the need to have a second skillset to complement her game. She tried her hand at fast bowling, legspin and wicketkeeping, but finalised on offspin only because there weren't too many of that variety in her set at the Karnataka Under-14 trials.
"Essentially, I took up offspin and got picked immediately. That's when I became serious about it," Patil chuckles. "Also, getting picked was a kind of realisation for dad that I was serious about the game. He decided I needed to go to a bigger set-up."
Patil began training at the Dravid-Padukone Centre of Excellence in Bengaluru. Arjun Dev, her coach there, would become her mentor. Their working relationship was so strong that when Dev moved on to begin his own academy three years ago - NICE Academy - Patil also moved with him and became the academy's first female cricket trainee.
But moving to a new set-up brought its own set of challenges.
"I realised I spent far too much time commuting to the academy," she says. "In a city like Bangalore, it can get to you. Four hours of commute up and down every day didn't help. I decided it was time to focus on those four hours and use them better."
Patil, unlike several others in the WPL, was fortunate to have the means and support of her family to move homes. She found herself an apartment a hop away from the academy and moved in to live by herself so that she could train and focus better.
"That's one of the best decisions I made," she says. "More than having quality training, I feel it has changed me as a person. You learn to be independent, you learn to think for yourself, [and] have time for yourself.
"Growing up as kids, you kind of take your parents for granted, but actually being away in that sense was an education for me. It helped that they supported me. My mom was initially against the idea, but once she saw the benefits of the move, she bought into it wholeheartedly."
Patil is still four months short of turning 21, but she has already established herself in the Karnataka set-up. However, only a year ago, she was benched for the T20s. It's then she acknowledged that it was important to work extra hard, even if it meant spending eight or nine hours at training across two sessions. That is when she realised the decision to live closer to her training facility was a massive boon.
"She had the skills; it was more about helping her understand her game," Dev says. "She bowls at a quick pace for women's cricket. Initially, she would be dubbed as this expensive bowler. For me, most of the coaching was around making her understand [that] pace is her speciality, not a weakness.
"In women's cricket, if you watch domestic tournaments especially, you will see legspinners and left-arm spinners mostly bowl to 6-3 fields. Offspinners also bowl 6-3 because they don't turn the ball that much. We told Shreyanka, 'You're too good to do just that. You have something different, go down that route. You may not be appreciated at the moment, but eventually your time will come.' Her returns at the one-day tournament were a validation. That played a big role in her WPL call-up."
"I think my biggest learning has been to think for myself and develop plans," Patil elaborates this point, "and then fine-tune it with people I trust - like Arjun sir. I realised I can't be spoon-fed. That doesn't help anyone. When Mike [Hesson, Royal Challengers' director of cricket] told me after our first session how he was impressed that I had come fully prepared, it was a kind of vindication of my own beliefs and plans had worked so hard on."
Patil aims to play for India by 2025. It's a goal she charted out once cricket resumed after Covid-19. And while she has had an impressive start to her WPL stint, she knows there is a long way to go, and goes by a simple mantra: "Stick to your plans, keep pushing the boundaries, and the rewards will come. It's that simple for me."
There can't be more clarity than that.