Headstrong Yashasvi Jaiswal keeps Mumbai in thrall

Wankhede is synonymous with towering totals. The red-soil pitch offers true pace and bounce while the outfield provides value for shots. Hence, the IPL statistic that chasing a 200+ target at the venue remained an unconquered frontier was scarcely believable. Mumbai Indians picked a fitting occasion to rewrite the history books with the league turning 1000 games old. While their goal materialized via a triplet of fine hands, Rajasthan Royals rode on a breathtaking one-man show.

Yashasvi Jaiswal assumed the mantle of the chief aggressor in the PowerPlay, and kept his foot on the pedal till the very end of the innings. His authoritative hooks gave Jos Buttler the breathing space as he tried, in vain, to wake up from an uncharacteristic slumber. The majority of the right-hander’s dismissals in IPL 2023 had come off balls zeroing in on the stumps, so Mumbai had taken the field having done their homework. Denied the room to free his arms, Buttler consumed 8 deliveries to get off the mark even as Jaiswal peeled off a quartet of fours in the opening over of first change Riley Meredith, whose impaired execution of the yorker threw up driving opportunities.

At 9, Rajasthan are joint equal with Chennai Super Kings in terms of the maximum number of overs with 15 or more runs scored in the PowerPlay this year. Mumbai had been an ally though, with new-ball merchants Cameron Green and Jofra Archer straying down the leg. Overall, the extras amounted to 25, becoming the next best contributor to Rajasthan’s cause after the lone ranger that was Jaiswal.

Movements in and around the crease often preluded his strokes. He shuffled across and crouched low to ramp Meredith and Arshad Khan, used his feet to hammer Piyush Chawla down the ground, and backed off to hit consecutive boundaries against Archer at the death. At times the bowler caught wind of the maneuvering and followed Jaiswal, who displayed a superb knack for adjustment. When Arshad abstained from bowling full upon seeing him move into the position for a scoop, Jaiswal was flexible and creative enough to hoist the ball over the wicketkeeper, with the bat face pointing skyward rather than towards fine leg.

These largely premeditated motions, aimed at accessing empty pockets, didn’t pay off versus Kumar Kartikeya as he fired darters into Jaiswal’s body upon noticing the creation of room to open up the off-side, but it revealed an understanding of gaps and the willingness to put the ball in those sparsely populated regions. The onus of maintaining the tempo fell squarely on Jaiswal as four wickets in the middle phase threatened to annul the progress made in the PowerPlay, and the set batter ensured a satisfactory harvest of 78 runs thanks to a no-holds-barred attitude.

‘’Did the thought of slowing down cross your mind at any point as wickets tumbled around?’’ Deep Dasgupta asked in the innings break. Jaiswal shaked his head in disapproval. ‘’No, not at all. I am clear about the enforcer role the management has given me. I need to keep going and hit fours and sixes to make sure the run-rate is high. I’m trying to contribute as much as possible to the team,’’ Jaiswal said.

He also talked about working relentlessly on his skills with Rajasthan Royals head of cricket Zubin Bharucha at the franchise’s academy in Nagpur. The collaborative effort put into fine-tuning his power hitting is evident from the stillness of his head at the point of contact, the rapier-like bat speed and the proliferation of scoring avenues. Having usurped Sanju Samson as the fourth youngest to score an IPL hundred, he slashed Meredith over backward point from a stable base by snapping his wrists. His head was transfixed right over the ball, permitting transfer of the bodyweight into the shot as he accelerated his hands through the line.

At the beginning of his quota, Meredith hadn’t missed his mark by much as he bungled up the yorkers, but Jaiswal’s electric bat speed furnished him with the leverage to dig out the ball and send it scorching across the turf. That Jaiswal hit a boundary in all 8 scoring segments during his panache-laden 124 off 62 goes to show his range. Rohit Sharma was effusive in his praise of the young lad who scripted RR’s highest total against MI. ‘’I watched him last year, this year he has taken his game to a new level. I asked him where all that power is coming from, he says he is spending time at the gym, he’s timing them really well. Good for him, good for Indian cricket and good for RR as well.’’

Apart from putting in the hours at the nets and exercising to build strength, Jaiswal is ticking all the other boxes that a modern athlete is expected to. ‘’I keep a check on my diet. I’ve organised my life well outside of cricket. I try and stay in a positive frame of mind,’’ he told the host broadcaster.

A century in front of a full house at Wankhede has an emotional connotation for Yashasvi Jaiswal. Let alone raising his willow and helmet to soak in the applause, he once dreamt of just being able to play at the iconic stadium, the euphoric sounds of which permeated through to Azad Maidan, where he both lived and trained in his formative years, even selling pani puri to make ends meet. His journey from the ramshackle tent to the top echelons of the sport reaffirms the adage: Dare to dream, because dreams do come true.

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