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Feature

Jaiswal a far cry from Dravid and Pujara, but can make No. 3 his own

He has the smarts, maturity and stroke-play to fill up a spot that was occupied by two greats for almost three decades

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
24-Jun-2023
The winds of change are here.
For a better part of the last 28 years, India have had two rocks at No. 3 in Test cricket - Rahul Dravid and Cheteshwar Pujara, who played 267 Tests between them. Their style of play is a throwback to classical ways: mind over matter, technique and hard grind over flamboyance, and crease occupation as important as runs on the board.
They made a single look sexy. Think back to Sydney 2008 or Jo'burg 2018, when they elicited wild applause from the crowd for scoring a run after a succession of dots and leaves. They had that effect on you. Leaving the ball was like muscle memory, a sound defensive game their USP. It's this layer to their game that brought them a combined 20,483 Test runs and 55 centuries.
Now, with Pujara left out for the start of India's new WTC cycle, beginning with the two-Test tour of the Caribbean in July, India have three batters to choose from to replace him. Among them, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Yashasvi Jaiswal have earned maiden call-ups. Then there is Shubman Gill, currently an all-format opener.
Irrespective of who they pick, one thing is certain: unlike previously, India will be picking a T20 superstar to fill up one of the most critical batting positions. For now, most indications are that a newcomer will be allowed to ease into the role and it's likely to be Jaiswal, the 21-year-old from Mumbai who has built a solid body of work for the past three seasons.
On the face of it, it's easy to assume Jaiswal is an IPL pick. No uncapped batter has scored more in a single season than the 625 runs he made in 2023, including the tournament's fastest fifty, off just 13 balls. He pulls and hooks some of the most fearsome fast bowlers for fun. He mimics Jos [Buttler] bhai's scoops and ramps at training and spends hours off the field talking T20 batting with him.
Those who know Jaiswal vouch for that inquisitive nature being a reflection of his personality. A go-getter who constantly seeks help in refining himself. "I realised only if you ask for help, you will get it and when there are so many people willing to, you have to make that effort as a youngster," he told ESPNcricinfo last year. "Later I realised, it wasn't just my T20 batting that improved. My English got better too."
Earlier this month, Jaiswal was part of India's WTC contingent for the final as a reserve player after Gaikwad opted out. And after losing the final, when Rohit Sharma touched upon playing a certain "brand of cricket" and how they needed to find those who have done well in domestic cricket, it was as much hint as one could have that the transition phase was about to get kickstarted into motion.
This brings us to Jaiswal's selection. His record in first-class cricket makes for impressive reading: 1845 runs in 26 innings at an average of 80.21. He has converted nine of his 11 half-centuries into three figures. That's a peek into his insatiable hunger for runs. It's the kind of hunger that once had him sleeping in tents as a newcomer to Mumbai; it made him realise if someone made 100, he perhaps needed 200 to get noticed.
But without for a moment romanticising this "struggle" those from Mumbai often speak of, it's impressive enough that Jaiswal has managed to carve an identity for himself over the past year alone. Let's be clear: Jaiswal is unlikely to be your stonewaller; a first-class strike rate of nearly 70 tells you he'll be anything but that. Jaiswal has developed into a free-stroking batter without compromising on his technique.
It's an uncomplicated approach. There are no exaggerated trigger movements apart from a tap, and brief back-and-across movement for balance that allows him to easily transfer weight forward or back. Jaiswal almost always meets the ball with his eyes right over. And fluid footwork against the short ball allows him to ride the bounce and look increasingly comfortable while tucking deliveries safely into the square.
What sets him apart though is the capability to hit similar deliveries into the long leg fence by getting inside the line. With Jaiswal, there's no one method. His ever-evolving game is a series of minor tweaks made over time. Yet, he can be stodgy when you need him to be. Like in the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal last June against a decent Uttar Pradesh attack.
Playing in only his third first-class game ever, Jaiswal was dropped twice, on 33 and 37. The first was a lazy swish at a fifth-stump line delivery that had him nicking. Then he flashed one to gully where a tough chance was put down. From beyond the ropes, Mumbai coach Amol Muzumdar sent a clear, but stern message. "You have two options: get a single, watch the next 15 minutes from the non-striker's end or don't play any shots even if the ball is there to."
For the remainder of the day, Jaiswal embodied composure and walked back after batting for 353 minutes and getting to a century, his second in first-class cricket, to a polite but satisfied "sir, I followed your instructions" note to his coach.
It underlines Jaiswal's maturity, which for someone just 21 is refreshing. As such, the prospect of filling a position occupied by two greats for close to three decades can be daunting. Jaiswal, though, is equipped to not be burdened by that and embrace sterner challenges that will come his way.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo