Shreyas Gopal reportedly took a double hat-trick in school cricket. But how many wickets was that exactly? Four, as it the custom while referring to such dismissals? Six, which is the lay man’s understanding of a double hat-trick? Who knows? This fact was reported in 2015, but the website that carried it, Wisden India, is now defunct. So did it really happen?
Shreyas Gopal made a name for himself in the Toyota Inter-university Cricket Challenge, a televised tournament that burned bright in one year before going kaput. He hit a winning 83* and took two wickets in the final, but this trivia only exists on a far corner of YouTube. How many people know about it?
Shreyas Gopal was a name that only Ranji Trophy nerds knew, for his ability to take middle order wickets, and provide obdurate runs lower down the order. In his first three IPL seasons, he played all of six matches. In a country driven by star power, he was an unknown, yet another cog in the vast machine that is domestic cricket, sometimes making an appearance on the big stage, but never shining enough to stay in public memory. No matter that he has four first class centuries, more than 200 domestic wickets, and multiple Ranji Trophy titles to his name. Most of that didn’t matter to the cricket loving public of India.
He matters now. They know him now. Now, Shreyas Gopal is an IPL hero. And he could soon be more.
Among the many voices on Twitter complaining about the futility of the abandoned game between the Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rajasthan Royals, hardcore fantasy gamers are the most disgruntled. After rain reduced the game to five overs a side, and then cruelly retuned just as it neared completion, the No Result meant that points accrued by players counted for nothing, as both sides didn’t get equal opportunities to play.
In particular, those who had picked Shreyas in their squads were particularly annoyed. After Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers had made their intentions clear with a 23-run first over, Shreyas came in for the second. His first two deliveries disappeared off Kohli’s bat; a six over long on and a four, followed by a double. But then Shreyas got Kohli. Again. For the second time this season. The next ball he got de Villiers. Again. For the second time this season. And if that wasn’t enough, he followed those two with the wicket of Marcus Stoinis, completing a hat-trick.
Fantasy games would have awarded him points for three wickets, but they can’t measure the value of those wickets, in their enormity or frequency. This wasn’t one of those hat-tricks that leg spinners buy with hapless tailenders taking wild swipes at their flighted deliveries or misreading their googlies. It was the opposition’s top three, their best hitters, two of their overseas players. It was two of the best batters in the world, and here was an uncapped Indian player making them his bunnies. In a format where every ball is an event, condensed further by the shortened game, it was a string of wickets that ripped the heart out of the RCB batting. That performance alone should have earned him as many fantasy points as all ten other players combined.
To think that at the start of the season, Shreyas wasn’t trusted enough to to bowl his full quota of overs, bowling out just once in his first three matches. This despite no other lead spinner who could turn the ball both ways in the Rajasthan side. Now he is the second highest wicket-taker in the league, with 18 wickets. That puts him ahead of India regular Yuzvendra Chahal, and even ahead of Imran Tahir, who has played half his matches on the sand-pit that the Chidambaram stadium can be.
Let’s not forget his batting contributions. A critical 13* off seven finished a Jos Buttler masterclass against Mumbai, and the 18 off nine that gave Riyan Parag and Joffra Archer room to finish an incredible chase against Kolkata Knight Riders. Did I mention he has a highest First Class score of 150?
There are calls for Shreyas to be India’s next white ball cricketer, and they are not unfounded. After the World Cup in July, India will look to build a fresh crop of players for the next edition, to be played in India. And Shreyas’ name will be high on the list. Because there have been a number of one-season wonders who impress one year, only to be found out the next. Not so Shreyas, who is playing his second full season. He has continued to impress with the ball, showed he can handle pressure and play cameos with the bat, and the stunning catch he took against Mumbai will certainly help his fielding credentials.
For the man whose incredulous reactions at taking big wickets won hearts, a perfect end to a fantasy season may not be far. But then perhaps end is the wrong word. Perhaps beginning is better.
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