Team India has been a breeding ground of spin bowlers ever since the dawn of international cricket. Never in the history of Indian cricket, has there been a phase where the Men in Blue have not been able to produce quality spin bowlers. Indian spinners have gone to rule world cricket for decades. However, certain rusty outings from the Indian spinners over the last year has raised a very tormenting question, “Who’s Next?”
The answer to this question will surely be a sore ache for the Indian selectors and the Indian team management in the months to follow. With the door of the ICC T20 World Cup 2021 widely open for the India National Cricket Team, their conundrum of finding an impactful spinner could lead them to certain options in the next 5 months. One of the best available options for team India is none other than Karnataka all-rounder, Shreyas Gopal.
Karnataka has been a pillar of producing cricketers in the Indian circuit when it comes to generating talent and impact for the India National Cricket Team. Ever since the Men in Blue started making a mark on the world map of cricket, players from Karnataka made sure that India’s spot on that map keeps illuminating brightly. In the early 70s, Gundappa Vishwanath and Syed Kirmani held that baton and in the 90s, legends like Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, and Venkatesh Prasad made sure that the baton is carried to the next level.
However, in the last decade, there came a phase in Indian cricket when players from Karnataka did not make it big in the national team but there was never a question on the potential. This belief made sure that the wait was not elongated and players like KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, and Manish Pandey have now gone on to don the jersey and represent the tricolour proudly. However, one striking factor that has been common among all these players has been the amount of grit and perseverance they have shown before making it big.
Although, the word ‘Perseverance’ has been synonymous with Indian cricket, but the demeanour that players from Karnataka carry along with them, is second to none. In the same light, another player who has quietly made it through the ranks has been young all-rounder Shreyas Gopal. As a young boy from Bangalore, Shreyas Gopal never thought of playing professional cricket until he was in his teenage.
Much to the contrary of young cricketers from India who take up the sport at a very young age, all Shreyas Gopal could think of, in his young days, was completing his schooling and getting a degree. He eventually did that but it is not difficult to predict how Shreyas Gopal’s inclination towards cricket began. Shreyas Gopal’s father, Mr. Ramaswamy Gopal, played club cricket for a span of 20 years and his mother, Mrs. Amitha Ramaswamy, has been a Volleyball player for the state team.
Another common string that unites Indian cricket lovers across the country is Cricket’s very own God, Sachin Tendulkar. Shreyas Gopal will be seen plying his trade in the Pinks this year in IPL 2021 as he will be representing the Rajasthan Royals. As Sportzwiki caught up with Shreyas Gopal in an exclusive interview, Shreyas Gopal narrates how he transformed his mindset from just getting a degree to playing for the nation, how Sachin Tendulkar inspired him to take up cricket, his aspirations going ahead and how he celebrates his peers’ success with the same ecstasy as he celebrates his own. Catch the excerpts below
Exclusive: Shreyas Gopal- Another Fruit Of Perseverance Who Can Be India’s Knight In Shining Armour Of The Dusky Spin Arsenal
Q: How did you break into cricket? What were the early inroads? Who did you idolise growing up?
Shreyas Gopal: I started playing the game because of Sachin Tendulkar sir. He’s probably been an inspiration for everyone Indian at my age to take up cricket professionally. Mine (inspiration) has been no one else. I started playing in my house, my Dad used to throw some softballs in the house and I just used to keep batting and bowling and then we just played some cricket at home and from there we slowly took it to the academies at a very young age.
From there it grew and the interest and thrill of playing cricket stayed for quite some time. I don’t know when I took it professionally. Not at least till I was 14 or 15 because I still wanted to concentrate on my academics till then and I always wanted to have a degree and have a good educational qualification with me. From there, things just worked out and I got my first-class call-up and in the same year, I happened to play in the IPL. When I started playing India Under 19 was probably when I decided I can take this a lot more seriously and focus a lot on the sport.
Q: You have played alongside Indian cricketers including KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Manish Pandey, what is it that separates them from the rest?
Shreyas Gopal: Obviously, these guys are tremendous cricketers. I have known some of them for more than a decade now. Rahul (KL) I have probably known since I was 10. I have grown up watching some of them and Rahul was my childhood favourite among our batch and it is just the willingness to perform and the hunger that they thrive on.
It also reflects in Karnataka cricket as there is too much competition in the State team and sometimes people also say that Karnataka can field 2 or 3 state teams which is very true. It is just the hunger, the desire, and the burn to do well and succeed and make themselves, their families, and the country proud is something that sets them apart from others.
Q: Tell us about your history of hat-tricks!! What is your thought process while delivering the last delivery?
Shreyas Gopal: Speaking honestly, I didn’t even know I had got a hat-trick in the Irani Cup and if you look at the footage, I didn’t realize I had got a hat-trick. I was just happy that we had won the game and I turned to take the wicket and keep it as a souvenir but before I had turned, Manish and Mayank were the two guys who took everything away and I probably got the bail.
When it comes to the hat-tricks, I have got a few hat-tricks and I have been fortunate just getting those hat-tricks. You don’t get it very often but, I just try and pick a wicket because if I am going for a hat-trick ball, more than me, the batsman is under pressure because it’s his first ball and he knows it’s a hat-trick and not miss that ball. I try and spin the ball as much as I can whether I am bowling a leg-spin or a googly. I try and spin the ball and get the outside edge or on the pads. So, I just keep a few dismissals in my mind and execute spin.
Q: You were in the Mumbai Indians’ setup for a long time!! Did you have the opportunity of speaking to Sachin Tendulkar? How was the experience around him?
Shreyas Gopal: There are a lot of things that we talked about. I was very very fortunate to be in that same dressing room with his presence. My dream would be to have played alongside him which was never fulfilled. Having him in the dressing room was equally good if not better. He shares every experience of everything that he has faced in his cricketing career. It’s just the insight that he gives us as youngsters about how the feeling is to be at that level. He has probably encountered every situation that we are going through.
One of the things that he explained to me was just looking at the field and try to understand what the bowler is going to bowl. It was pretty amazing as he guessed 12 balls and he got almost all the 12 deliveries spot on. There was probably one delivery where he said wide yorker and the bowler bowled a yorker. Other than that, he got everything on spot. He even predicted where the batsman is going to play.
To my surprise, once he predicted that the batsman is going to lap this ball and it got that specific and I was pretty mind-blown with that and I just asked him how he predicted that and he said, “You’ll probably understand that in a few years.” But, I don’t think I’ll ever understand that and he was too great and it was great to have him around and he also gave me a lot of advice as a batsman as to what trajectories and deliveries would be difficult to face so that as a bowler I try to repeat that kind of delivery or that kind of a variation.
Q: Shane Warne has been consistently behind RR’s performance over the years!! How influential has he been in improving your performance?
Shreyas Gopal: Warne has been an absolute legend. He brings a lot of spark into the team. He brings the energy, the vibe into the dressing room. When I came here for the first time, I didn’t expect that but he’s more than willing and more than encouraging to all of us. He keeps sharing his views on the game. He’s someone who loves planning dismissals. I am sure he wouldn’t be happy if he bowled and someone got out in a way that he didn’t want to.
I talk to him a lot about tactics. He’s not someone who’s very technical, which is something where he says that every bowler is unique in his own way and each one has his own strengths so you don’t have to copy anyone. He’s very tactical in that sense and he provides a great vibe to us and he makes you feel like you are a very good bowler. He’s very aggressive at his tactics and that was probably reflected when he bowled in his career as well.
Q: Your googly has made a lot of noise in the cricketing circuit!! Is there anything special that goes into delivering a googly, especially when it comes to practising the art?
Shreyas Gopal: I have been asked this question on multiple occasions and there is nothing special in the way I prepare, it’s just the normal googly. A lot of people can actually pick me, it’s not like no one does. But, there’s definitely no secret behind my googlies, I just try and spin the ball as much as I can, that’s probably what I try to do and I try to mix it with topspin, googly and leg-spin and I try to just keep their batsmen guessing as much as I can. There’s no mantra and there’s definitely no secret behind my googlies.
Q: You have been extremely successful against AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli in particular!! A lot of bowlers in world cricket won’t be able to say that!! Do you prepare in a special manner for these world-beaters?
Shreyas Gopal: Before bowling to any top batsman you know that they can definitely play amazing shots to really good bowls as well. You know that they don’t possess any weaknesses at all. If there’s a slightly lesser talented batsman, you can spot a weakness or two but with these legendary players, it’s difficult to find any. AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli don’t have any weaknesses.
When you don’t see any weakness in a batsman, all you can do is try to assess the conditions and try to assess the match situation. If you know the match situation, then you are in a position to understand what they need per over and then you can plan your deliveries accordingly. You just try to stick to things that are under your control and things you can see around you.
You shouldn’t really focus on the other side and try to deliver your best ball because sometimes if I can bowl the best leg-spin also, I can still get hit for a four or a six. Knowing that you need to deliver your best ball and focus more on the controllable.
Q: Now, that you have played a lot of domestic cricket and been in the IPL over the years, what are your aspirations going ahead? Do you think about making your debut in the Indian colours?
Shreyas Gopal: My dream is to definitely don the Indian jersey. At the moment, I feel I am ready and I am just waiting for that call-up. Donning the Indian jersey is going to be a very proud moment for me and my family. Irrespective of the format, I feel I am ready and I really want to represent my country. Every cricketer plays the sport to represent their country and I also belong to the same group. I am just hopeful that day comes sooner. I would give everything that I have, for my country.
Q: A lot of players who came after you have performed consistently in the domestic circuit and got their Indian call up!! Don’t you get agitated by the fact that you still haven’t received a national call up?
Shreyas Gopal: The fact that some players got the chance means that they deserve it. There are probably some things that I need to work on to get my call. I am willing to do anything that it takes to get that chance. However, I don’t hold any hard feelings for anyone. I want my name to be there but I am really happy for some of my friends who are making their debut for team India.
It’s going to be very selfish of me to think on my part that I am not happy for someone who is being selected in the Indian team. Every player has made some or the other sacrifice to reach that point. I was getting goosebumps while watching Prasidh Krishna getting a call and getting to see him bowl for the national team. I was extremely happy for him.
My time will come and until then I will do whatever it takes to reach there. However, even if it doesn’t, I will never ever feel about a player getting his national cap. As sportsmen, we understand the sacrifices that we make personally and professionally to play for the country and I believe when my time will come, my peers will be equally ecstatic.
That was all from Shreyas Gopal. All eyes will now be on Shreyas Gopal in IPL 2021 as the Indian selection committee prepares for the ICC T20 World Cup 2021. If Shreyas Gopal makes a mark in this year’s IPL, a maiden India call-up is not miles away.
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