Shreyas Iyer: I don't take pressure at all

"Prior to the start of this season, I knew a lot of people were thinking that the bowlers would sort me out. I think I have proved them wrong by doing well in my second season," says Shreyas Iyer, who has already scored 930 runs in eight Ranji Trophy matches this season.

Shreyas Iyer... a player with natural aggression and immense talent.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

Shreyas Iyer is a great admirer of South Africa's AB de Villiers. "Whatever be the situation, he plays his natural game. He is a great finisher," says the Mumbai batsman.   -  PTI

Shreyas Iyer knows no fear. He knows he is capable of rewriting the record books. His batting style, which reminds us of a certain Virender Sehwag, is refreshing to say the least. No wonder, then, that connoisseurs in Mumbai are hoping that he is picked for India soon. In an exclusive chat with Sportstar, the 20-year-old opens up on his art, craft and a lot more.

Question: You amassed 809 runs in 10 Ranji Trophy matches last season. This season, you have already scored 930 runs in eight matches. And you have done so at a strike-rate of 95.48. How are you feeling about your batting?

Answer: I am very positive. Prior to the start of this season, I knew a lot of people were thinking that the bowlers would sort me out. I think I have proved them wrong by doing well in my second season. I am really enjoying the freedom my coaches and my team-mates have given me. I entertain absolutely no thoughts when I bat.

How do you define positivity?

My positivity, well, I can explain it this way: whichever shot I play, I play it confidently. If I see that the ball has pitched in my slot, I punish it. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first ball or the fourth, or if I get a four or a double.

Talking about your hitting zone, do you always look to dispatch the ball?

I don’t think that way. I want to stay at the non-striker’s end, actually, instead of facing ball after ball. So, I try to rotate the strike. This has helped me a lot, especially at the start of any innings. I like to keep the scoreboard ticking. It has helped me.

When did you first pick up a bat? You are only 20 and people are talking about you playing for India sooner than later...

My father used to bowl to me with a plastic ball at home. That’s how it all started. I was good at football too. But there came a point when I had to make a choice. My dad said I could do whatever I wanted, but he also told me that I couldn’t play both cricket and football. So, I chose cricket because it is big in India. I was aware of the scope of cricket in our country. I knew its rich history. Soon, I got into Shivaji Park Gymkhana, Dadar. I started scoring runs in club matches. There were ups and downs.

I have gone through bad patches, too. Things were not easy at the Under-16 and Under-19 levels. I was dropped. That was an important learning experience. Those failures were a boost. I wasn’t getting that many opportunities. So, I tried to make the best use of whatever chances I got. I am really happy that I am doing well now. I like the flow of things. I have done well for Mumbai. I have also done well (for Delhi Daredevils) in the Indian Premier League. (In fact, Iyer was named the Emerging Player of the Tournament in IPL-8.)

How do you approach a game? Football and cricket are team games, but they are very different. What have you learnt from these disciplines?

Actually, I am a very aggressive footballer, too. I play in the midfield but I play ‘solo’ (smiles). I control the game. I provide an assist when it matters. I am good at running, too. So, I use my skills well.

Who is your favourite footballer?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I love his attitude. I love his book, ‘I AM ZLATAN’. That attitude of his has helped me gain confidence. Actually, I played for a club in Nottinghamshire last year. My captain gifted me this book. I never used to read books before that. But after reading it, I realised how different this guy was. He always does what he likes.

He is like the boss. That’s what impressed me about him. But despite all the talk, he always performs…

Yes, that’s the great thing about him. His goals are awesome, so different from the others. I also like Cristiano Ronaldo.

How do you approach a cricket match?

I visualise.

Can you elaborate?

I know the bowlers in the opposition. I visualise the five bowlers who are going to bowl to me. I do this the night before the game. I visualise each of them bowling two or three deliveries to me. But while in the middle, I sing!

What do you sing?

English, Hindi. A mix of everything, actually.

Could you sing one of your favourite numbers?

It’s a song called ‘Monster’ by the American band, Imagine Dragons. It goes:

I’m only a man with a candle to guide me

I’m taking a stand to escape what’s inside me.

A monster, a monster,

I’ve turned into a monster,

A monster, a monster,

And it keeps getting stronger.

What about your favourite Hindi number?

I am a huge fan of Arijit Singh. My favourite song of his is:

Dil, sambhal ja zara

Phir mohabbat karne chala hai tu.

These songs, basically, cool things down for me. They relax me; they take my mind away from the match. I sing when I am at the non-striker’s end.

Last week, Rohit Sharma said you reminded him of Virender Sehwag. Do you admire Sehwag’s batting?

To be honest, I don’t have any role models. Whatever Sehwag sir has achieved is phenomenal. People dream of such careers. Actually, I love to see AB de Villiers bat. He is just like Zlatan. He doesn’t care. Whatever be the situation, he plays his natural game. He is a great finisher. I want to do the same. AB sees to it that the team wins the match. And on most occasions, he makes sure the team wins.

Let’s talk about AB and the art of batting. He is redefining batting. His 360-degree approach, his use of the crease, his shots — do you want to do all of that and more?

I love AB because he plays all formats and he is very good. Whenever he plays Test cricket, he spends some time at the wicket. I watched him batting when the Board President’s XI played South Africa at the Brabourne recently. A man who can score off each and every ball, AB consumed so many deliveries to score a hundred that day.

Mumbai is the ‘gharana’ of Indian batting. That apart, it has won 40 Ranji Trophy titles. Right now, you are the No. 1 batsman in this team. Do you feel the pressure?

 

I don’t take pressure at all. I don’t know the meaning of pressure. That’s what I tell myself. Earlier in life, I used to get scared. I was scared of exams. Actually, I used to shiver at the time of submitting my papers to the invigilator. I would think, ‘Oh, I have left that question unanswered’. I used to panic a lot. Then, I started becoming confident. Now, I can deal with things better. I know I can control things that can be controlled.

Shreyas, you seem to have reached a higher mental plane. People get there much later in life. Are you aware of this? And who or what helped you get there?

Failure! I would say failure. I have sat out many matches. I sat out games I knew I should have played. In the ICC Under-19 World Cup in 2014, I didn’t play too many matches. I knew I was in form and that I could have made a great mark. I was really disappointed after we lost to England in the quarters. This was in Sharjah. I cried in the team bus. Then, I told myself that I am going to prove everyone wrong. That experience made me a lot positive. That, kind of, made me hungry for runs.

What about Praveen Amre, your personal coach?

I have been with Amre sir since my Under-13 days. He has supported me a lot. He has worked on my technique, skills and mental aspect. He is a great coach to have. He has coached many top players like Ajinkya Rahane and Suresh Raina. Whenever I feel I have a problem in my technique, I call him. We then meet at Shivaji Park and work on that flaw in the nets. He is always there for me.

Visualisation is a strong term. What do you visualise?

I visualise leaving certain balls, tapping the ball and running singles. I never visualise hitting fours and sixes.

But that’s what you do on the field?

But I never relate my visualisation with my batting.

Prior to the start of the last game against Uttar Pradesh, what did you think of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Praveen Kumar, their senior-most bowlers?

I never visualise that they would bowl bouncers or get on top of me. I think of them bowling a good length ball and me leaving that ball or tapping it for a single.

Do you visualise getting on top of the bowlers?

Yes, I do sometimes.

But you end up smashing every bowler out of the park…

That happens instinctively. I never decide. But, yes, it has happened many, many times (smiles).

Who taught you the art of visualising?

Mughda Bavre (a sports psychologist who works with every team of the Mumbai Cricket Association).

Did the art of visualising come across as funny initially?

Yes, I used to find it funny. Actually, my dad used to keep telling me to do it. He would say that every expert commentator, every retired legend would talk about how visualisation helped them. But I used to say to him, ‘yeh kya faaltugiri hai, yeh toh boring hai’ (what’s this nonsense, this is so boring).

Does Zlatan talk about it in his book?

He is ‘chilled out’ (laughs). When I feel low, I watch his videos on YouTube.

What kind of videos?

His interviews! They are the best.

Shreyas, your strike-rate is very high this season…

I don’t think much about my stats, actually.

But you are the second-highest run-getter as of now…

To be honest, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want my team to win.

Will you ever change your style of play? Look, you may have a bad patch in future. What then?

I won’t change my game. These methods have got me runs. My coaches, my team-mates, well, I call them doctors. They are all there to diagnose the problem and sort things out. Even if I try to change my game, I will be the same. My stroke-play will be the same. It is very natural. It’s God’s gift to me and I want to make the most of it.

What are your dreams? Where do you see yourself five years from now?

I have not thought of anything. I’ll let you know after five years (smiles). Look, I want to live a good life. I want to have a great standard of living. I have decided I want to do certain things at a certain age. It will be this, this and this by a certain age. What I am going to be, I don’t know. But I know I want to play for India in all three formats and I want to be a consistent run-getter and match-winner.

So, you don’t want to follow a set pattern? Have you thought about innovations like batting left-handed? Dilshan gave us the Dilscoop, Pietersen gave us the switch-hit and AB has shown us his 360-degree approach. What have you thought of?

I am working on certain shots. They aren’t fully developed yet. I want to execute those shots. I want to use them as a special weapon when the bowler is on top of me.

Let it be a secret. We might as well watch it on TV…

Yes (smiles).

What’s your favourite text-book shot?

The straight drive.

Why?

It feels really nice because the fielders don’t move at all. And the best thing is that it passes the bowler.

Is it a risky shot?

It is if you don’t time it properly. You have to come in line with the ball. If the ball is swinging, it becomes difficult to play a straight drive. But if you are confident enough, you can play it. It happens with the flow.

If the score is 100/1 or 1/1, does your approach remain the same?

Yes, it is the same. If you go in at 1/1, you can’t allow them to dominate you and shrink you. I can’t let them cheer up. I want to bring the morale of the opposition down. I want to attack because I want to make things easy for the next batsman.

When was the last time the opposition subdued you?

In the first match, against Andhra in Vizianagaram, the bowlers were on top of their game. They started cheering. They got me cheaply. They got a good wicket and I obviously didn’t enjoy that because I did not get runs.

Do you get sledged?

Yes, I do. And I like it when they sledge me. I don’t react.

What do they say?

Yeh paata ka raja hai (he is the king of featherbeds), etc, etc. I laugh and, then, after scoring, I just give that particular guy a look.

And what do they do?

They say sorry (laughs).

Has it really happened?

Yes, against Baroda. One guy said something and I said ‘phir se bol, kya bola (come on, say it again). And he was like ‘come on, man, I was joking’. He was my India Under-19 team-mate.

So, he thought he could get away with sledging you?

Yes, he did (laughs).

Do you sledge?

Yes, I do, especially when we don’t get wickets. But I don’t target any Team India players (laughs). But if they target me, then I don’t mind giving it back.

Have you done that?

Yes, with Karnataka players. All of us do.

Sachin Tendulkar says you must never stop dreaming because dreams come true. You surely think of winning big matches, important tournaments for India…

I have always dreamt of playing in the World Cup. I was sitting in the North Stand on April 2, 2011. The crowd went crazy that night. That’s when I told myself that I should play for India. I want to win the World Cup for India one day.

What about Test cricket?

Obviously, I want to win matches for India. I want to score runs in tough conditions.

Do you believe you are ready for that challenge?

Yes, I have imagined playing all those fast bowlers.

Who are the five bowlers you really admire and why?

Dale Steyn — he is the king of fast bowling. I played him at Brabourne recently. I had only heard how he swung the ball at that pace. Playing him is a totally different experience. He was the first bowler I visualised before that match. I also like Mitchell Starc and R. Ashwin. Ashwin has got many variations. He is a thinking bowler. That’s why he is so successful. I really like James Anderson because he swings the ball both ways. Finally, I like Shane Warne. He is still so good.

What else do you have to share?

I feel dream is not what comes in your sleep. Dream is something that never lets you sleep (smiles).