Beach Slum to Cricketing Heights: The Marvellous Tale of Yashasvi Jaiswal-by Michael Roberts

Beach Slum to Cricketing Heights: The Marvellous Tale of Yashasvi Jaiswal-by Michael Roberts

Michael Roberts


James Wallace in The Guardian, 11 March 2024, where the title runs

The opener has gone from living in a tent to breaking records and plays for an Indian Test side with frightening depth.

PHOTO wd not dowlnload

You may, by now, have heard the origin story of Yashasvi Jaiswal, the 22-year-old Indian opener who has just crunched 712 runs in a series, the most inflicted on an England side by any Indian batter in Test history. No matter – it’s a tale that bears repeating. Jaiswal was just a slight and shy 10-year-old boy when he left his home district of Bhadohi, eastern Uttar Pradesh, with his father, and headed 1,000 miles south across India’s vast expanse to the bright lights of Mumbai in pursuit of a seemingly impossible dream – to make it as a professional cricketer in a country of 1.4 billion people where the game is revered as a quasi-religion.

His father left him with an uncle in Mumbai and headed back to the rest of the family. After just a few days the young Jaiswal left to live and work in a dairy shop before he seized the opportunity to live in a groundsman’s tent in the city’s famous Azad Maidan. Here he existed on a diet of glucose biscuits and the occasional free meal. More than that, he survived on a diet of cricket. With endless net practices and matches, Jaiswal set about honing his batting skills with an almost incomprehensible focus. “I have been alone a long, long, time,” Jaiswal told the Hindustan Times last year. “When my father left, it was very hard for me at first. Slowly, I got used to it. I got busy.”

After a couple of years of living in the tent on the Maidan – playing cricket from dawn until dusk and occasionally earning a rupee or two of pocket money by helping the food vendors sell their pani-puri – Jaiswal was spotted by cricket coach Jwala Singh. Singh took him in and eventually became his legal guardian. The two of them working together tirelessly towards their dream.

In those early, lonely days, Jaiswal used to stand outside his tent and look across to the floodlights of the Wankhede Stadium burning through the Mumbai night sky. On 30 April last year Jaiswal was inside the famous ground living out his dreams, scoring a maiden IPL century – 124 runs from 62 balls – for Rajasthan Royals against Mumbai Indians. He had the presence of mind to reflect on his achievements, his journey, while still out in the middle, saying afterwards that he saw a vision of himself as a child “standing there and watching the lights”.

“It will always be in my mind,” Jaiswal said of his singular journey. “It always gives me confidence and a fighting spirit that, whatever situation may come, I will be ready.”

Jaiswal was ready for England. He got busy. Double centuries in Visakhapatnam and Rajkot snuffed out any illusions England may have been under after that initial win in Hyderabad, built on the back of Ollie Pope’s 196. Pope’s innings has already been rubber-stamped as one of the great overseas centuries by an England player; in truth, England needed something as inspired and improbable as Pope’s masterclass to occur in every game, almost every innings, with bat or ball, just to keep up with India’s dominance in all aspects of the game.

Much will be made of England’s defeat here; the postmortem having already started with the cadaver yet to be repatriated. There will be theories and suggestions; everything from mindset tinkering to wholesale personnel changes will probably get some airtime between now and the first Test match of the summer against West Indies in July. What cannot, should not, be lost in the discussion is just how magnificent this India side is and has been for the last 17 series in home conditions.

Rohit Sharma’s team have every base not only covered but ironclad. No Virat Kohli? Nevermind here’s another couple of young batting geniuses primed and ready to step into his princely shoes.

Your star wicketkeeper still recovering from a horrific car crash and his replacement out of nick? Well, here’s a 23-year-old with velveteen gloves and a liquid nitrogen temperament with bat in hand: there you go, son, do your worst.

Pitches going to spin a little are they? Shouldn’t be a problem – we’ve got a world-beater in nearly every variety including a slow-left armer, Kuldeep Yadav, who has just become the fastest Indian bowler (and the second-fastest spinner overall) to pocket 50 Test wickets in terms of balls bowled.

Oh, you’d like a bit of pace for a point of difference? “Jasprit! Oh Jasprit!”

India run the world game off the field and they set the benchmark on it. How can they not? Jaiswal’s story, amazing as it is, is not the only one currently doing the rounds. Other kids with a one in a billion chance are making it happen and will continue to do so. They are out there right now, red clay from the Maidan on their limbs, the distant glow of floodlights shimmering in their eyes. Preparing for when the chance comes to get busy.

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