HT Brunch Cover Story: Meet Shreyas Iyer, the wizard of the wicket!
Did you know that the 25-year-old top-order batsman is a stage magician as well? Presenting: The multifaceted interest only a millennial can have!Updated: Jan 21, 2020 17:17 IST
“Pick a card, any card!” He’s got the magician’s patter down and his nimble fingers perform sleight of hand better than many professional prestidigitators. But card tricks aren’t the only magic he’s performing. At 25, cricketer Shreyas Iyer plays for the Indian team and also captains the Delhi Capitals in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
It’s the eve of his first big appearance as a stage magician at the Jio Wonderland in Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex. Sitting in a plush lounge where he’s just hobnobbed with famous French illusionist Titou Molard with whom he’ll be collaborating for the performance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Iyer has the world in the palm of his hand. But this young man has worked hard to gain the confidence he exudes.
“Sitting beside MS Dhoni was a really special feeling. I told him I always dreamt of a day like that and he didn’t know what to say!”
“About five years ago, I was offered a contract by the Clifton Village Cricket Club in Nottingham, England. I was staying with one of my teammates there and everything was new for me. I thought magic tricks would be a really good way to start conversations. I looked them up on YouTube and slowly mastered them,” he says. Now he carries three decks of cards everywhere he goes.
Image has always been important to him. “I introspect on how I am perceived by other people. It’s been this way since my childhood. I like to be the best version of myself. I really love to dress well, even for a casual family get-together. In fact, before I go to bed, I imagine what I’ll wear the next day!” he confides. “People say I’ve reached the stature of a celebrity. It’s important to live up to that.”
He does. When the right-handed batsman steps on to the pitch, his body language oozes self-assurance, his bat thwacks the ball with consummate ease. In A Father’s Dream, a documentary on Iyer directed by Aayush Puthran, Pravin Amre, former Indian test cricketer, coach of the Mumbai Ranji Trophy team and president of the Shivaji Park Gymkhana (SPG), reportedly says he likes Iyer’s attitude even more than his technique. The man who gave Iyer his first break by recommending his selection into the Under-13s is proud of his protégé’s performance in the 2014-2015 Ranji Trophy, where he made 809 runs at an average of over 50 and became the team’s highest run-scorer during the season.
“During a bad spell [as a cricketer], I realised I needed to travel with my friends, forget about the game, and recharge. When I came back, I was back in form!”
It’s not surprising that Iyer became the focal point of a bidding war in the 2015 IPL auction, where he was finally ‘acquired’ by the Delhi Daredevils (now Capitals) for Rs 2.6 crore. That year, Iyer was the highest earning uncapped player in the tournament.
Bat out of hell
Becoming captain of his IPL team in 2018 has given his game a new depth. “Captaincy completely changes your mindset. The challenge is to lead your team to victory even when you haven’t performed well yourself. When you do that and the team wins, people will always remember how well you led that day. However, to gain the confidence of the other players, you have to perform too,” Iyer says.
From dreaming of playing in the big league to literally rubbing shoulders with his childhood icons, he has come a long way. “Sitting beside MS Dhoni was a really special feeling. I told him I always dreamt of a day like that and he didn’t know what to say,” he says. Then there is Captain Kohli. “Virat and I discuss my technique or skills regularly.” Delhi Capitals’ coach and Australian legend Ricky Ponting’s guidance has been instrumental in centering his energies too.
Iyer’s also understood the importance of taking a break from constant pressure. “For example, I was playing a lot of matches back to back and my second IPL didn’t go that well. Before that, I was the leading run scorer in the domestic circuit and the second highest run getter in the Ranji Trophy but I suddenly couldn’t score even 50 runs in six games. That’s when I realised I needed to travel with my friends, forget about cricket for a while and recharge. When I came back, I was back in form,” he explains.
Small setbacks aside, thanks to his consistent performance in domestic matches, he was selected for the 2017-18 ODI series against Sri Lanka, where he scored two half centuries. Iyer’s optimised blend of aggression and control has convinced cricket pundits that he’s a good long-term bet for the number four batting position that the Indian cricket team has been trying to fill for a while. “It’s not easy to bat at number four, as you have to switch between being a hitter and anchor. If a couple of wickets fall in the first few overs, then you have to grind in until the 40th over and build partnerships, before resuming attacking play.”
Not bad for a Mumbai boy who started hitting strokes off a rubber ball bowled to him by his cricket-loving dad in their home in Worli’s Adarsh Nagar when he was just seven. He started playing with a season ball with his friends by the age of 10. A sparkling innings of 102 runs off 40 balls assured Iyer’s parents of his ability to make a career out of cricket.“My dad made me change schools so I’d have better exposure to quality cricket. He then took me to the nursery of cricket, SPG. It was a rejection in the first attempt, since I wasn’t old enough.”
“It’s important as a player to know your end zone. You need to sacrifice what other people your age might do.”
Iyer made the cut the very next year. But his parents were clear that education could not be made secondary to cricket. To maintain the balance, he often sacrificed practice for studies. But cricket was the enduring obsession. “There has been a fair share of ups and downs in our lives. Dad had to shut down his courier and cargo business the same year that I was selected in the IPL. Neither were my parents cowed down by the bad news nor extraordinarily elated at my big break,” he observes.
That mix of grounding and acceptance of change is a constant factor in Iyer’s life journey. “It’s important as a player to know your end zone. You need to sacrifice what other people your age might do,” he says. “Growing up I realised that if you limit yourself to the same friends’ circle, you just stay there. You need to start thinking apart if you want to be in the one per cent zone rather than the 99 per cent.”
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From HT Brunch, January 19, 2020
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