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Yashasvi Jaiswal: From selling <i>pani puris</i> to smashing List A double-ton

How the Mumbai teenager beat the odds to turn his dreams into reality

Saurabh Somani
Among the many maidans that are dotted around the city of Mumbai, one of the more famous is Azad Maidan. In 2013 one aspirant who wanted to make it big like countless others, would be at Azad Maidan literally every moment of the day and night.
He was working hard, but not just at cricket. He practised, or played, in the day-time. Come evening, he would help sell pani puri [a popular Indian snack, often sold on streets] at the ground. In the night, he would sleep in one of the groundsmen's tents.
That was a routine day for Yashasvi Jaiswal, then aged 11, who had come to Mumbai to pursue his cricketing dream. Six years later, the 17-year-old Jaiswal has become the youngest to smash a double-century in the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy, with 203 off 154 balls for Mumbai against Jharkhand. He is only the third player to hit a double-hundred in the competition, but Jaiswal's age, his background and his evident talent mark him out.
He is one of only four men in this year's competition to have aggregated over 500 runs. Each of the three above him have had the benefit of eight innings. Jaiswal has played just five - and scored 44, 113, 22, 122 and 203 in those five. He is just 11 runs shy of topping the run charts.
"Removing my helmet to acknowledge the landmark was a great feeling," Jaiswal told ESPNcricinfo after his double-century. "I hope I can keep doing well. This is only the start, I need to work more and go further.
"It was a very nice experience in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. I played with so many good players - Shreyas (Iyer) bhai, Surya(kumar Yadav) bhai. They have also taken really good care for me. I'm fortunate to have got such a nice atmosphere."
It's rare for Jaiswal to be even this effusive. He's taken the maxim 'I'll let my bat do the talking' to heart. So much that during a chat with ESPNcricinfo earlier in the tournament, he stopped midway through to wonder, "But why am I talking to you?" when describing his early struggles.
When the nonplussed reporter told him this was what generally happened during an interview, Jaiswal continued - but with the air of someone at the receiving end of a sales pitch for snake oil. He later explained that because this chat was happening mid-tournament, he was 'in the zone'. He might have come back to the hotel, but his mind hadn't left the ground.
As it turned out - evidenced by three centuries in his next four innings - he wasn't just being glib. He must have been 'in the zone' on Wednesday too, during his double? "Totally," he smiled.
Jaiswal's returns have also come on the back of great performances for age-group sides. In February this year, he made 173 against South Africa Under-19. In Under-19 one-dayers, he's averaged 53.16 in 13 matches, having passed fifty seven times, including a century against Sri Lanka Under-19 on his first tour.
The Jaiswal dream that has become reality happened because he came under the eyes of Jwala Singh, a coach in Mumbai, the city he moved to with his father at a young age. His father owns a small hardware shop and handles the cell-phone towers in the area, but his uncle lives in Mumbai.
"My parents live in a small town in Utter Pradesh, Bhadohi. It's near Varanasi," he said. "I had come to Mumbai very early with my father, who had work here. Once I came, I wanted to play. I used to play cricket earlier also in UP. Once we were in Mumbai, I was playing casually in Azad Maidan, and I liked it. I was interested only in cricket from an early age. I had thought that I want to play for Mumbai, because Sachin [Tendulkar] sir has played from Mumbai.
"My uncle's house wasn't so big that I could stay there long term, so I began living in a tent. This was the tent where the groundsmen who prepared the pitches in Azad Maidan stayed. I had to make food myself. I wouldn't get that much money from home also then. There was a stove there (in the tent). I would buy the raw items, cook them and eat."
"They [team-mates] still tease me (good-naturedly) about it [selling pani puris]. They would then too, but now that I've made it to the Mumbai team, they tease me even more."
Yashasvi Jaiswal
Luckily, the school Jaiswal was going to was very close to Azad Maidan, and it was more or less understood that children joined that school to play cricket more than study.
"I kept playing in this fashion, and to earn more money I would sell pani puri in the evenings. My father had gone back, I would sell it with my uncle at Azad Maidan itself. I would earn some money from that, and eat. I would do odd jobs here and there too, wherever possible."
Jaiswal didn't always enjoy selling the snack because he would have to sell to his team-mates often. "How would you feel, if you had to sell stuff to make ends meet and your friends and team-mates were the ones coming to buy, after the day's play?" he asks rhetorically. "They still tease me (good-naturedly) about it. They would then too, but now that I've made it to the Mumbai team, they tease me even more."
What he describes as his life's 'biggest turning point' happened then, with Jwala Singh's arrival.
"Someone told him about my financial difficulties. I was doing well in school cricket then, and sir took me under his wing," Jaiswal said. "He had a similar story. He too had come to Mumbai without too much money, but he never got someone to support him and help him get ahead. He thought the same thing shouldn't happen to me. He asked me what I wanted to do and about my current status. I told him everything, and he then said, 'Okay beta [son], from now you stay here (in his house) and I will look after everything for you.' He looked after everything. He is like a god for me and I will always consider him as such. He is the reason I have reached here. But this is just a platform. I have lots of hard work in front of me to rise higher."
Given how he's done in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the path ahead might have an IPL contract dangling, but Jaiswal insists his focus is "only on the next. The rest, I leave up to god."
Surely his parents must have some plans when his first big pay cheque comes?
"My parents don't have any extravagant needs, they just want me to play cricket well. There is nothing that will make them more proud than me representing my country. Other than that, apart from a place to stay and food to eat, they don't want anything."
Except for runs? "Lots of them," he smiled.

Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo