Climbing up the ladder

Cricket

Climbing up the ladder

Shreyas has showed impressive presence of mind, suggesting a long run for the Karnataka all-rounder

When Shreyas Gopal was in his early teens, it was his batting that made people sit and take notice of him. His proficiency in technique, which belied his young age, had even impressed his illustrious State-mate Rahul Dravid who gifted the youngster a few of his bats. Though Shreyas has always been effective with his leg-spin bowling in representative cricket for Karnataka, it has always been a poor cousin of his batting.

It thus comes as a bit of a surprise that the 20-year-old is headlining his fledgling Ranji Trophy career as a bowler. 15 wickets in three first-class matches are impressive returns but then nothing exceptional about it. What, however, is striking is his unflinching nature even during tough circumstances. In the run-up to his Ranji Trophy debut, Shreyas, unlike his fellow debutant R Samarth, didn’t have much to show for as performance in the Safi Darashah tournament. While Samarth had stacked up over 800 runs in the season-opening tournament, Shreyas had managed a mere 36 runs and a solitary wicket in the two matches for KSCA President’s XI.

In a way, it may appear that he has been lucky to get the break but his selection was based on his obvious talent. And three matches into the season, the youngster has established himself as an inevitable part of the playing 11. That skipper R Vinay Kumar showed more confidence in Shreyas rather than regular spinner Abrar Kazi in the quarterfinal, only his third match, against Uttar Pradesh was a reflection of his rapid rise.   

“To get a call midway through the Ranji Trophy season and to do well is a fantastic experience,” said Shreyas, whose father played in the KSCA league. “If the team does well when you are contributing, it’s just so exciting. This is a wonderful unit and everyone is aiming to win the tournament. No one is really involved or bothered about his own performance. We have come so far and hopefully we can win the title,” he rattled off as if he has memorised those sentences.

Shreyas, who has two hat-tricks to his credit playing for the Frank Anthony Public School, made an immediate impact on his debut getting crucial breakthroughs when Mumbai appeared to thwart Karnataka. “I was obviously nervous,” he said about his debut. “...But it was the whole team that came behind me and Samarth, who also made debut in that match. It was against Mumbai and live on TV and I was under a bit of pressure but that’s when the team backed us and gave the freedom to express ourselves.”

The youngster understands he has to come up with meatier performances with the bat as well. “As an all-rounder, my duty is to contribute in both departments to the best of my ability,” he pointed out. “Sometimes you do well with the bat and other times with the ball... In Ranji so far, it’s with the ball that I have been doing well. It’s a little hard to swallow that my batting hasn’t come up well but I am getting the full backing from my team. All the seniors and the support staff are backing me. They are willing to work that extra bit with me to improve my game.”

Just 48 runs in five innings would surely have seen him warming up the bench if not out of the squad but his bowling has extended his stay in the 11. “I have always wanted to be an all-rounder,” he said. “When we start our cricket, we all like to both bowl and bat and the reason being, if you didn’t do well in one department, you could make up for it in the other. Right now, it’s exactly the reason that is helping me. It gives you that cushion and you feed off from the success in one aspect of your game. Yes, in batting so far I haven’t done much and that’s disappointing but at the same time I am not surprised with the amount of wickets I have taken,” he explained.   

His bowling action and celebration styles have elicited comparisons with former India captain and ace leg-spinner Anil Kumble but for now the similarities end there. “Everyone has told me that I do have a similar action but I don’t know how it came about,” he maintained. “I have never consciously tried to follow his action. But I do try and visualise what Anil sir did, probably try and bowl in the same areas and get in more variations like him. Obviously he is my favourite spinner and there are a few things that I work on which he used to do.”

Having sporting parents in the family – mother Amitha was a state-level volleyball player while father Ramaswamy Gopal played in KSCA league for close to two decades – has naturally benefitted Shreyas. “My mom and dad have been my greatest supporters,” he said. “It helps to have parents who love sports because they understand your requirements, the space you need. My dad has hardly missed any of the matches that I have played. He is a regular during my matches and I was thrilled to see him watch me when I made my Ranji debut,” he recalled. 

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