Shreyas Iyer origin story: From Shivaji Park Gymkhana to World Cup via a fulfilling dinner

Shreyas Iyer has a history of waiting for opportunities and hitting the mark when they arrive. The question now is whether he can maintain this trait.

Published : Oct 01, 2023 15:04 IST , MUMBAI - 5 MINS READ

Shreyas Iyer’s journey has been one of patience and untapped potential. He should have debuted in Test cricket three years earlier than he did in December 2021, but circumstances delayed his entry. Similarly, he was touted as India’s No. 4 for the 2019 World Cup, but that opportunity never materialised.

Over the last two years, recurring back injuries have sidelined him, leading to more missed international games than appearances. However, he remains resolute in his pursuit of fitness, poised to seize the chance that eluded him four years ago.

Intriguingly, Iyer’s story of waiting and making the most of opportunities dates back to the mid-2000s, when his father, Santosh, took him from their Worli residence to the revered Shivaji Park Gymkhana (SPG). The esteemed coaching trio of Pravin Amre, Padmakar Shivalkar, and Sandesh Kawle at SPG recognised the potential in the 11-year-old.

“But we had already selected our batch of 25 players for that year, and he came late, so we told him to come back next year,” Amre recalls. “He waited and was selected right away. Since then, he has continued to improve with every passing year.”

Under the watchful guidance of Shivalkar and Kawle, with Amre closely monitoring his progress, Shreyas displayed rapid improvement.

Shreyas Iyer with his childhood coach, Pravin Amre.
Shreyas Iyer with his childhood coach, Pravin Amre. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Shreyas Iyer with his childhood coach, Pravin Amre. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

However, it’s worth noting that Shreyas didn’t always stand out, even during his early years. It was Vinod Raghavan, Mumbai’s Under-19 coach in 2013–14, who played a pivotal role in propelling Shreyas’ burgeoning career. Raghavan’s influence led to Shreyas becoming the captain of the Mumbai U-19 team.

Amre’s return as the Mumbai head coach in 2014 for the senior domestic season worked in Shreyas’ favour. Despite Shreyas’ reputation as a formidable top-order batsman, often batting at No. 3 in local and age-group cricket, he was initially asked to bat at No. 7 in his first three Ranji Trophy matches.

When Mumbai travelled to Kolkata for a crucial tie against Bengal in the 2014-15 season, Amre was looking for a new No. 3. “I approached Siddhesh Lad since he was batting consistently and was a senior to Shreyas. I asked Siddhesh whether he would walk in at No. 3, But he said, ‘I am happy with my position,’ says Amre.

“Then I asked Shreyas, and his immediate reaction was, ‘If you say so, I shall do it, sir’. The spontaneity in his response and the desire to take on challenges are amazing. The instant response of ‘I’ll go’ made me sense he was different. He scored a hundred (153 off 175 balls) against Bengal. I realised he had the capacity to soak up challenges.”

Shortly after agreeing to Amre’s advice, Shreyas approached Abhishek Nayar, a senior teammate with whom he had formed a close bond. Interestingly, Amre had earlier urged Nayar to take Shreyas under his wing.

Reluctantly, Nayar had to bid farewell to his preferred roommate, Sushant Marathe, and instead teamed up with Shreyas. Over the past decade, their relationship has transcended that of mere teammates.

Shreyas once described Nayar as his “3 am friend” and now regards him as a “mentor.” Nayar, in turn, considers Shreyas more than just a teammate; they’re like brothers. Their journey has seen them transition from avid students of the game to fitness enthusiasts, and they even share a knack for impressive moves on the dance floor.

Before the memorable Bengal game, Shreyas and Nayar initiated a new ritual. Amre had suggested team-bonding sessions due to a lacklustre start to the season, and Nayar kicked it off with a gym session in Lucknow a week prior. 

On the eve of the Bengal match, Shreyas reached out to Nayar for assistance, and together they experimented with a new meditation and preparation routine in their room. It proved highly effective, and for the next three years, they faithfully followed it before every match.

Iyer made headlines when Delhi Daredevils bought him at the 2015 IPL auction for Rs 2.6 crore.
Iyer made headlines when Delhi Daredevils bought him at the 2015 IPL auction for Rs 2.6 crore. | Photo Credit: R. V. MOORTHY

Iyer made headlines when Delhi Daredevils bought him at the 2015 IPL auction for Rs 2.6 crore. | Photo Credit: R. V. MOORTHY

While Nayar served as a guiding light, Amre closely observed Shreyas and his technique. Amre was instrumental in convincing the Delhi Daredevils management of Shreyas’ ability to handle raw pace in the IPL. Despite having played only three T20 games at that point, Shreyas was acquired for Rs. 2.60 crore in the 2015 auction.

Recognising that the only available slot in the XI was that of an opener and that Shreyas, as a middle-order batsman, might struggle to break into the team, Amre took matters into his own hands. 

He approached Gary Kirsten, the Daredevils’ head coach at the time. “The overseas coaches on such matters always say ‘you take that decision’, so you are answerable. I took the onus on myself and told the team owners that he could deliver, having scored 800-plus runs in his maiden Ranji season. The other challenge, which eventually worked in his favour, was that he had hardly played T20 cricket, so there was no data to bank on,” Amre says. Shreyas repaid the faith by scoring 439 runs and was adjudged the most promising youngster of the 2015 season.

After being named the captain of the Delhi Capitals in IPL 2020, Shreyas invited Amre over for dinner at his home. Amre set a condition: he would only accept the invitation after Shreyas scored a Test hundred. 

Amre’s pride swelled when Shreyas, like him, marked his Test debut with a century against New Zealand in December 2021. Amre hopes that the first Shivaji Park Gymkhana cricketer to play in the World Cup since 1992 would follow in the footsteps of Sandeep Patil in 1983 by lifting the Cup.

Nayar, on the other hand, is cautiously optimistic. He has witnessed Shreyas endure the “toughest phase of his career” but says he is determined to make the wait worth it.

Shreyas has a history of waiting for opportunities and hitting the mark when they arrive. The question now is whether he can maintain this trait.

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