On Thursday, if Yashasvi Jaiswal had started his innings with caution, you would have understood why. With only 150 to chase, there was merit in the opening batter to have a watchful start, protect his wicket against the new ball, and get his bearings before cashing in. With Jos Buttler at the other end, there was little reason to go too hard at the top, and in an era of data-driven cricket, even more so against an offspinner who can take the ball away.
Therefore, it seemed to be a smart ploy from Nitish Rana to bowl the first over for Kolkata Knight Riders. Rana is a handy part-time spinner with a somewhat golden arm, and the idea to sneak in a quiet first over wasn’t a bad one. Worst case for Rana, if the over didn’t go as planned, at least it was a brave attempt to buy an early wicket since that was the only way in for KKR in their defence of 149. Instead, it turned out to be an expensive decision. Jaiswal hit Rana for 26 runs, the most by a batter in the opening over of an IPL innings.
But you can’t blame Rana for bowling that over; you can only praise Jaiswal. The batter came down the track first ball and hit it for a six, and followed it up with another next ball. In all the years of IPL cricket, only once had that been done before – Virat Kohli in 2019 against Varun Aaron in a five-over match – and even after the 12 runs off the first two balls, Jaiswal was only whetting his appetite. Three of the next four balls in the over went for boundaries, the fourth ball very nearly did too.
Those six balls showed such pristine form that even Buttler did not hesitate to sacrifice his wicket next over. On zero, Buttler had turned down Jaiswal for a single but the youngster hadn’t spotted it and had run through. Once Buttler noticed that, he made the split-second decision to cross Jaiswal so that Jaiswal would not be out.
“When I saw Nitish bhai bowl, I thought that if I can get runs off him with my shots then I should go for it,” Jaiswal said after the match. “You never know how someone will bowl their first ball, but after spotting the field placements, I calculated what my shot options were.
“Between Jos bhai and me, I am learning a lot. Today, he sacrificed his wicket because of my error, and I really respect that. We all know that it happens in the game, nobody does it purposely. But that was the moment where I decided to take responsibility, thinking ‘it is okay’ but I need to take responsibility from here on.”
Jaiswal did not let Buttler’s sacrifice go to waste. He pulled Harshit Rana for a six, enjoyed some luck to earn four overthrows, and then tore into Shardul Thakur with a hat-trick of fours.
He first hit Shardul by moving leg side and driving an inswinger, then by pulling through midwicket and finally following it up with another drive through the covers. On 49 off 12 balls, Jaiswal had very nearly broken the all-time record for the fastest T20 fifty. On the next delivery, he shaved one ball off the IPL record.
“I was very excited,” Jaiswal said. “When I reached the 13-ball fifty, for a brief moment I thought there was a chance it was the fastest IPL fifty, but I wasn’t sure till I found out after the game. I enjoyed that moment, I celebrated also, I did this [flexes his right arm] and this [flexes his left arm]. I told myself, ‘Let’s celebrate.'”
The quality of the shots he played and the fluency with which they travelled to the boundary was the highlight of Jaiswal’s fifty, but even more impressive was his clear thinking. Jaiswal did not approach his innings based on what the target was. Neither did he change his style in the aftermath of the Buttler dismissal, nor was it a case of ‘see ball, hit ball’. Instead, Jaiswal’s mantra was to scan the field, identify scoring options and then remain wholly committed to it. It is that sort of mindset that has made Jaiswal the frontrunner for the orange cap and the emerging player award, and holistically takes him closer to becoming a complete batter.
Coming into the KKR game, Jaiswal’s ball-per-boundary ratio of 3.1 in the powerplay this season was the best. He is also extremely quick off the blocks, possessing the second-best strike rate (175) and an even better ball-per-boundary ratio (2.9) in his first ten balls of an innings. Even though he scores faster against pace bowlers, he is yet to be dismissed by spin in IPL 2023. These quick bursts have set him up for success this season, with the KKR innings now giving him his fifth 50-plus score in 12 innings and very nearly a second IPL 2023 century, having already hit 124 against Mumbai Indians.
“Every wicket has a different behaviour and you play according to that wicket and the ball being bowled,” Jaiswal said on his consistency this season. “I try to understand what they [the bowlers] can do, where they can bowl, and what the field is. And I try to understand the wicket also. Because sometimes that can go in your favour if you understand the wicket. My preparation has been focused around my discipline lately. Because after fielding for 20 overs with high intensity, you have to go bat. That’s why I am working on my fitness and the mental aspect of the game.
“I also know that I will not bat like this every day. I have to accept that on some days my shots will pay off and on other days they won’t. So it is important to continue learning irrespective of how my innings pans out. Around me, there are many experienced players and I keep talking to them about how to keep your mindset as a batter. The legends like MS [Dhoni] sir, Virat Kohli sir and Jos bhai and Sanju [Samson] bhai… whenever I meet them, I try to learn what more I can add to my game and how I can control my mind.”
In his last 20 balls, Jaiswal caught on to the fact that Samson was timing it better and therefore took a back seat. Samson pumped five sixes and two fours in his unbeaten 29-ball 48, but that also meant there were not enough runs left for Jaiswal to reach his century. Needing six to get the century but only three to finish the game, the winning runs from Jaiswal could only be a four, leaving him stranded on 98 off 47 deliveries. For all intents and purposes, it was a century, with Jaiswal also treating it like that, removing his helmet and bowing to the camera after the game was buried.
“I thought that I will go for a six to get the hundred if I could, but it is okay,” Jaiswal said. “The other thing I had in mind was that I have to play long and finish the games, so even at the end, that was the only thought in my mind, to leave the field by finishing the game. I will remember this innings a lot. It was short-lived but also very intense.”