It was early March 2016. The Mumbai team had won the Ranji Trophy for the 41st time, beating Saurashtra by an innings and 21 runs at Pune and were contesting for the Irani Trophy at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai. The team under the stewardship of former Mumbai captain and coach, Chandrakant Pandit were being felicitated by the Cricket Club of India, the function being attended by many former Mumbai players.
The ‘Ides of March’ factor struck the home team which lost a sharp battle to the Rest of India (ROI) by four wickets after having taken a 297-run lead in the first innings. A spirited all-round effort by ROI saw them home and taught Mumbai’s cricketers a lesson not to take the match for granted. Apart from what they leant on the field of play, the home team received much more from a luminary who had worn the lion crested cap with pride.
Sunil Gavaskar, who was attending the function, was requested by Pandit to have a chat with the Aditya Tare lead Mumbai team. They listened in rapt attention as the maestro gave them a few tips, a few of them being experiences from his own illustrious career. Consistency, he said, was the most important element of success if one wanted to climb higher. Getting a hundred was good, he pointed out, but getting them with consistency and making them bigger was the key.
Converting the hundreds into double hundreds on a regular basis is what will get a player noticed. Luck, he added while pointing to his forehead, also plays an important part. He told the youngsters of his own experience and that of his colleague and former India opener Kenia Jayantilal. Gavaskar recounted how he had missed the first Test match of his debut tour of the West Indies at Kingston, Jamaica in 1971 thanks to a whitlow on his finger.
Jayantilal who made his debut in that Test match was brilliantly snapped in the slips by Windies captain Garry Sobers off Grayson Shillingford for 5 runs. The Hyderabad stalwart was dropped from the side in the next Test match at Port of Spain, Trinidad. The Indian opening pair replaced by Gavaskar and his senior Mumbai teammate, Ashok Mankad.
Gavaskar then described how Sobers had muffed a simple chance he had offered early in his debut innings while the West Indian legend had taken a blinder that came of the edge of Jayantilal’s blade. While Gavaskar never looked back and continued to pile runs in International cricket, Jayantilal had to be content with playing domestic cricket for the reminder of his career, something he did with pride and a big smile.
His explanation was that luck goes with or against you and cannot be controlled. To make up for the vagaries of luck, a player must keep milking runs when fortune favours him and not give it away and be content with a mere hundred. The candid story that Gavaskar had recounted was a lesson to young cricketers that when luck runs out every once in a while, it is the bank of big scores that keep a cricketer in business.
Listening to Gavaskar’s story was young Shreyas Iyer who had come through a dream run in the Ranji Trophy having scored 1321 runs at an innings average of 73.38. His performances in his third season of the blue riband tournament got him on the radar of the national selectors and, since then, has been in and out of the Indian teams in the shorter formats, Twenty20 (T20) and One Day Internationals (ODI).
His recent tally in ODIs, scoring 259 runs in four innings with consecutive 50 plus scores has fixed his place in the team. The icing on the cake being moved up one notch in the batting order to number four. This position has been a contentious one for the Indian team in ODIs and one has seen many experiments by the selectors and the team management over the last few years including during the International Cricket Council World Cup that was last played in England.
Shreyas today looks a mature player, one who wants to bat deep and keep his consistency levels high. It just may be that his stint as the captain of the Delhi Capitals in the last Indian Premier League has helped him become more responsible and develop into a player who can be trusted to deliver. He also knows that there are many young players breathing down his neck and consistency and negating the luck factor (in Gavaskar’s words) will help him maintain his much deserved position.