"Runs bananeki habit hai usko." (He has a habit of scoring runs)"
Yashasvi Jaiswal was a prolific run-scorer in school cricket, club cricket, age-group cricket. He is the youngest double centurion in the history of List A cricket. Ahead of the ongoing U-19 World Cup, he had amassed 1919 runs in 39 innings at an average of 56.44 with five centuries and 10 fifties in the last 15 months. So it wasn't a surprise when Jwala Singh — mentor, coach and father figure to Jaiswal — used the word 'habit' as he kept belting out one achievement after another while chronicling his protege's journey so far ahead of the World Cup.
That run-scoring habit is on display at the U-19 World Cup too. Ahead of the Pakistan match, Jaiswal had scored three fifties from four matches. The only occasion he failed to score a fifty was the match where the opposition had scored less than fifty; Jaiswal scored 29 not out from 18 balls chasing 42 against Japan. His scores, before the semi-final, read: 59, 29 not out, 57 not out, 62.
However, ahead of the match against Pakistan, Singh wasn't quite satisfied with Jaiwal's performance. He wanted more from his insatiable ward.
Singh and Jaiswal share a special relationship. These are two individuals with similar stories looking to get the best out of each other. Quite often, Singh has been quite rigorous in his methods and demands to get the best out of Jaiswal. And he's succeeded in his missions more often than not.
"The best thing sir did was, he didn't give me anything easily," Jaiswal had told Firstpost ahead of the World Cup. "He always used to say, earn it. Jab tu iske kaabil hoga, tab mai tujhe ye doonga. Mai saamne se laake doonga (When you become worthy of something, I will myself give it to you). So I always took it as a challenge."
Singh's methods have played a major role in making Jaiswal battle-hardened. And it wasn't a surprise that the father figure wasn't happy with just 50s in the World Cup. So the message was simple on a phone call ahead of the crunch match against Pakistan.
"Tera 50 ka standard nahi hai, tera bade score ka standard hai (Your standard is not just scoring 50 runs, it's much more than that). This is not new for you, you are playing U-19 cricket for a year now," Singh reveals what he told Jaiswal before the Pakistan match.
"For an opening batsman, 50 is not a big score. So I told him if you can garner two fifties in two innings then why not a hundred in one? I told him, after scoring 50, start off from zero, divide the innings in two parts."
In anticipation of that big one, Singh had flown to South Africa for the semi-final to secretly watch Jaiswal from the Senwes Park stands.
That elusive century arrived soon, with a message, 'You wish, I deliver'. Chasing 173, the 18-year-old scored an unbeaten 105, and with his opening partner Divyaansh Saxena (59 not out), guided India past the finish line with ease. It was an innings that underlined the maturity that belies his age. Pakistan have historically produced lethal pace bowling attacks at both junior and senior levels and this edition was no different. They had a strong side and a pace attack that had taken the most number of wickets (28) with the best average (14) and third-best economy rate of 4.42 in the tournament. Pakistan have defended low totals in the past and 173 on a pitch that had some extra bounce was not going to be a cakewalk.
Yashasvi neutralised that early threat and paced his innings to perfection. He started cautiously, gave the first hour to the bowlers. He had a good measure of where his off-stump was and left the balls well. Run rate wasn't in his mind. He had scored just 15 off his first 36 balls with just one four. What helped him was the fact that Saxena was keeping the scoreboard moving with an odd boundary.
It was in the 14th over that Jaiswal started to gain momentum. A thumping on drive off off-spinner Qasim Akram was followed by a crunching cover drive for two boundaries in five balls.
At one stage, Pakistan set him a 7-2 off-side field but he made a mockery of it by shuffling across and placing them through the leg side, manipulating the field for twos.
His next 30 balls yielded 35 runs as he reached his half-century off 66 balls with a delightful stand-and-deliver flick off Mohammad Amir Khan through mid-wicket which made Ian Bishop go, "He looks every inch a player above his pay grade." Not quite of the cult of 'Carlos Brathwaite! Carlos Brathwaite! Remember the name!' but one which might be remembered in years to come.
I think we’ve seen something very special today in Yashasvi Jaiswal. First time for me watching him live. A young guy who can pace his innings to the teams needs. He understands batsmanship. First ICCU19CWC💯👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻. pic.twitter.com/1PacjWbZl2
— Ian bishop (@irbishi) February 4, 2020
Jaiswal kept the momentum flowing and once it seemed that India had entered the safety net, he went after the bowling. This is when he showed he can accelerate at will and possesses a wide range of shots that underlined the different dimensions of his batting. He went after Afridi and deposited him on the grass banks for consecutive sixes, scoring 29 off him from 15 balls at a strike rate of 193. Jaiswal's moment of reckoning arrived in the 36th over. With 3 needed to win, Jaiswal, on 99, went down on one knee and lifted left-arm spinner Amir Ali over the mid-wicket grass banks to register India's first century of the tournament. Even as the ball has just taken the flight, the helmet went off, the arms went up in the air. There was that quintessential look to the heavens thanking God, parents and his coach, a short 360-degree appreciation turn and then a delayed leap in the air with a primal roar...of relief, joy, and satisfaction.
His temperament and game sense stood out. And it has been the case right through the tournament. He developed a theme towards his batting and stuck to it knowing that there will be early movement and bounce on South African pitches. Start off watchfully, give the first hour to the bowlers, slowly pick up the momentum with singles, twos and an odd boundary and then attack. Against Pakistan he played 63 dot balls, that's around 56 percent of the balls he faced but off the rest 50, he scored 105 at a strike rate of 210.
"We (I and Saxena) spoke that we had to stay on the wicket because it was very good. Initially, they bowled well and we had a plan that we had to see out that spell and after that we will dominate them," Jaiswal revealed the plan, after the game.
The senior pro was guiding along his partner as well.
"The target of 173 is tricky because you don't want to lose early wickets," Saxena told ESPNCricinfo. "We thought if you leave the ball initially, it's fine. They were coming hard at us, so we had to respect that early. After the 10th over, we got the better of them. In the middle, I was struggling a little but I spoke to Yashasvi and he guided me."
In this World Cup, Jaiswal has scored at a strike rate of 69.57 in the first 30 balls and after that, it has jumped to 95.68.
He has overall scored at a strike rate of 85.71 which might not seem staggering in this age of T20 cricket but he's hit the second-most number of fours (31, just one behind the highest) and joint-most number of sixes (9). He might not look as flamboyant as a Prithvi Shaw or Shubman Gill but he possesses a compact technique and that coupled with his shot selection and game sense make for a deadly combo.
"His game sense is really good," Singh explains. I have seen a lot of cricketers but Yashasvi is different. He values his wicket. He knows his game, even if he's played out 30 dots, he can cover them up. He knows his strength, he knows he has big shots in his armoury and can use them any time."
Right through the innings against Pakistan, he seemed in control. There were no rash shots. There was just one odd instance where he was beaten. It was a beautiful outswinger from Amir Khan that pitched outside leg and beat his outside edge. Jaiswal has looked solid at the crease throughout the tournament and employed the sweep shot well against the spinners. He has three fifties and one hundred in five matches and averages a staggering 156 in this tournament, the highest for any player in an edition among the players who have scored at least 300 runs in a single edition.
According to data analytics site Cricviz, Jaiswal's false shot percentage (balls edged and missed) in this World Cup is just 7 percent. Somewhere amidst his batting heroics, his bowling flows under the radar. He played the role of partnership-breaker at crucial junctures in this World Cup and it was his wicket of the set Haider Ali (56) that sparked a Pakistan collapse.
Yashasvi Jaiswal’s false shot percentage (balls edged and missed) in the Under-19 World Cup is 7%. The lowest false shot percentage in Test cricket—where greater control is expected due to lower attacking shot percentages—is Kumar Sangakkara’s 9%. #U19CWC #FutureStars https://t.co/cETm8r1skT
— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) February 4, 2020
What has impressed Singh throughout the tournament so far is Jaiswal's sense of responsibility.
"He's been playing responsible innings," Singh says. "If you are playing for Mumbai then you know there are other players as well who can win the match for the team. But here he is playing the role of a senior player, he knows that he is a vital player for the team and him scoring runs is really crucial. So he is playing with maturity, he is playing sensibly, he is giving himself time to understand the bowler at the start then looks for singles and doubles in the middle and then today he finished it as well against Pakistan so he is learning and playing by taking responsibility on his shoulders. And all these innings will make him a better cricketer and a batsman."
As always, Singh has a story to tell when it comes to Jaiswal. It speaks of his confidence in his game and match awareness.
"I had sent him to England via the Dilip Vengsarkar academy," Singh recalls. In the first match, he was batting in a very tough chase, so Vengsarkar sir was shouting from the top, 'maarke khel, maarke khel' (go for the big shots) but Yashasvi kept playing his own game. He started off cautiously but then accelerated in the end to win the match. Vengsarkar sir didn't tell him anything when he came back. So the good thing was he knew his strength, otherwise, if some other player would have heard someone of the stature of Vengsarkar shout maarke khel, he would have gone for it and might have gotten out while doing so. But I knew Jaiswal wouldn't hit. I liked the fact that he was handling the pressure. He knew what his batting was."
These kinds of innings, like the one against Pakistan, given the opponents and the stage, could have the power to make you an instant cult hero. It might just have produced one in Jaiswal.
"It is a dream come true for me and I’m very happy to have done it for my country,” said Jaiswal after the match. “Words cannot fully describe how I feel. It’s amazing and I will never forget the moment in my life that I scored a century against Pakistan in a World Cup semi-final. It is just the start though, I have to work really hard in the future as well.”
As he revelled in his heroics at Senwes Park, he was greeted by a surprise visitor.
"He was surprised. He had no idea I would come," Singh says.
"He had asked me not to come. He would say, when you come to watch the match I become nervous.
"I am happy he got rid of that jinx, he scored a century in front of me. A good omen," Singh laughs and signs off.
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