On Sunday night, amidst Mumbai Indians’ victory celebrations, a young Mumbaikar in a Delhi Daredevils jersey and crisp fading jeans slipped into the presentation ceremony to collect the Emerging Player of the Season award. The prize was a cheque worth Rs 10 lakh, an amount the receiver, Shreyas Iyer, thought he was roughly worth before the season began.
As is well documented, Iyer had been bought by DD for Rs 2.6 crore — a figure he more than justified by scoring 439 runs in the season, placing him eighth of the top run-getters’ list. On that list, no other uncapped player finished within the Top-30. But again, no other uncapped player in recent times has seen his exponential rise either.
Just six months back, on the day of his 20th birthday, Iyer was informed that he would make his first-class debut for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy. He started the season at No.7 in the batting order and finished at No.3, tallying 809 runs (at an average of 50.56) in between. Those were more runs than any other Mumbai batsman had scored and the seventh best in the tournament.
That, of course, got the scouts to sit up and take notice. Then, the IPL got the people on the street to do the same. Now, he is being touted by many, including Gary Kirsten, as the next big thing.
The boy of 20 who looks 15 — and one who wears a mop of a 10-year old who perhaps darted out of a barber shop half-way through his haircut — speaks with The Indian Express about his recent past, brilliant present and what will most likely be a glorious future. Excerpts.
How would you describe the last six months of your life?
All I can say is I was nowhere, nothing, before that. Yes, I had played an Under-19 World Cup but these past few months have well and truly put me in the public eye.
You made your Ranji debut this past season. What was your form like leading up to it?
I got just one chance in the Buchi Babu tournament, in which I made a hundred. It was a good time to click because based on that I was selected by Mumbai for the one-dayers. I scored a few runs there (he hit a half-century on debut against Saurashtra, a hundred against Gujarat and averaged nearly 55 in the tournament). Maybe because of that I got my Ranji call-up. Or maybe because I scored in crucial moments.
Your Ranji debut didn’t go as planned. You failed in both innings (7 and 1) and Mumbai lost to Jammu & Kashmir.
(Laughs) It was a historic first match to be a part of. Yes, it couldn’t have started off any worse for me. I got a bad decision in the first innings and when I got back to the dressing room, I broke down crying. I couldn’t keep a check on my emotions.
That run got worse in the next match when you got out for 11 vs Railways.
At that point I knew that if I failed again, I wouldn’t be picked for Mumbai. Going to Kanpur for the third match, I knew it was do-or-die for me.
It couldn’t have been easy at Green Park. UP had reduced Mumbai to 53/5 when you walked in.
Yes, but again, I looked at it as an opportunity to prove to my team that I can be their crisis man. So when I walked in this time, knowing that another low score and I’m gone, I decided to play my natural game. It clicked. With (No.9) Shardul Thakur at the other end, both of us went for our strokes and when they came off, we went for some more. All the others had gotten out defending. So we didn’t want to do that. I scored 75, Shardul scored 87 and we first saved the game and then went on to win it.
That innings gave you confidence and a promotion. What was it like to go in to bat at one-drop in the next game?
More than anything else, it reaffirmed what I had already known — that I can come good in crucial moments. All through my life, I have backed myself to find runs during crucial times and it has worked.
In your first innings as a No.3, at the Eden Gardens, you cracked 153 — your first first-class ton . Were you ecstatic or relieved? Or both?
Relieved. For sure relieved. No.3 is a great position to bat in. You set the tone for the team from there. You can either choose to anchor the side or to dominate the opposition. I was very lucky to be offered the spot after my first good innings and I was even luckier to make it count. My aim was to see off the seamers and then take on the spinners. It was in this knock, my first Ranji ton, that I proved to myself that I belonged at this level and that if I can get through the first 30 balls, it is very difficult for others to dismiss me.
Was there still pressure on you to perform as you returned to the Wankhede in the next game?
There’s always pressure to perform, and most so at the Wankhede. But it went really well as I scored a second innings hundred (142*) to save Mumbai the game. That will always be special because it was my first hundred at home. To score runs where my father used to take me as a child to watch and learn from Ranji matches, cannot be described in words. As a child, I did not watch much cricket on TV. The first time I watched a World Cup was in 2007, when India won the World T20. But live Ranji games at the Wankhede, I have witnessed plenty.
You seem to be equally adept against both spin and seam. Where does this come from?
Playing spin comes naturally to me as I have practiced on turning Mumbai tracks all my life. But tackling pace I had to learn. That happened when I went to England to play for Clifton Village in the Nottingham Premier League,just months before my Ranji debut. There, in the UK, the pitches are not conducive for Indian batsmen. Green tops, dark skies, soggy wickets, swinging and seaming ball. Terrible! But often these situations teach you more than ordinary ones.
The Ranji season was fruitful for you, even if it wasn’t for your team. What were your expectations from self at the upcoming IPL auction?
One of my Mumbai mates told me that I will surely get sold for Rs 50 or 60 lakh. And I thought he was crazy. I was expecting far less, if at all. So, of course, when I was sold for Rs 2.6 crore, it gave me a very pleasant shock.
Looking back, what did you most enjoy about this IPL season?
I got to play in the same team as Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan, what more can I ask for? I never thought I would come so far, so quickly. Also, being coached by Gary Kirsten was a privilege. But the best of all was scoring all those runs in pressure situations, in front of big crowds. It has shown to me and others that I have potential to go all the way.
What lies in the immediate future?
To complete my B.Com (he is in his final year at Poddar College). To be honest, I haven’t had time to look at my books and my exams are around the corner.
Are you expecting a call-up to the Indian team, in one of the three formats?
I really don’t think about all of that. All I can do from my end is to keep performing at the standard that I have set for myself. The rest will follow.