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Indian Premier League: The once homeless street vendor set to make Rajasthan Royals debut

CNN logo CNN 9/19/2020 By Vedika Sud, CNN
a man standing on a baseball field: Jaiswal with his coach Jwala Singh © Jwala Singh Jaiswal with his coach Jwala Singh

A typical young adult, donned in a pink and purple club jersey, with long limbs and a sprouting mustache, Yashasvi Jaiswal quickly runs his fingers through his hair. The words of wisdom that follow belie his 18 years.

The teenager has experienced more of life's ups and downs than many young men his age. His is certainly a rags to riches story fit for the silver screen.

Having left home aged eight to fulfill his dreams of becoming a professional cricket player in Mumbai, Jaiswal slept in a tent on a cricket ground while sustaining himself as a street vendor before his talent was finally spotted. Now, the teenager has secured a deal worth more than $300,000 with Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket team Rajasthan Royals.

A young Jaiswal celebrates another fine innings © Jwala Singh A young Jaiswal celebrates another fine innings

"Believe in yourself -- that's key," he tells CNN as he could be set to make his IPL debut. "Work hard. When you leave the cricket ground and go home and sit on your bed, you should feel you've learned something."

After delays and venue changes due to Covid-19, the forthcoming IPL season -- the richest club-based league in the world -- commences on Saturday in the United Arab Emirates, with eight teams, each named after cities in India, competing.

a close up of a person throwing a ball: India's Yashasvi Jaiswal celebrates after catching out Bangladesh's Shamim Hossain from a ball delivered by India's Sushant Mishra during the ICC Under-19 World Cup final in February. © MICHELE SPATARI/AFP/AFP via Getty Images India's Yashasvi Jaiswal celebrates after catching out Bangladesh's Shamim Hossain from a ball delivered by India's Sushant Mishra during the ICC Under-19 World Cup final in February.

Zubin Bharucha, director of cricket for the Royals, first spotted Jaiswal at the team trials about three years ago.

"He walked across the stumps and flicked it over fine leg for four, and all of us just stopped, stared and wondered. There was something really special here," Bharucha tells CNN.

At the time, the inexperienced Jaiswal was not signed, but years later the franchise would come back for the left-handed batsman.

Dreaming big

Jasiwal was three years old when he was first handed a cricket bat by his father, Bhupendra Jaiswal, an amateur cricketer who was keen to encourage his son's passion for one of the country's most popular sports. Growing up, his hero was Sachin Tendulkar and, like the great batsman, Jaiswal wanted to play for Mumbai and, of course, his country.

Aged eight, he left the family home with his father for Mumbai, commonly referred to as the city of dreams, and initially the pair stayed in a relative's house.

"It's really difficult to live in a small house with six to seven people. It was hard to live with them," the young cricketer recalls.

As his father, an owner of a small paint shop in the village, didn't have the means to support his son financially in the city, Jaiswal soon realized he would have to work, and play cricket, to survive.

He left his uncle's home and moved into a dairy shop, working long hours there while also practicing cricket at a famous ground in South Mumbai -- a hub for aspiring cricketers. But, just as he was becoming accustomed to his new routine, he was told to leave the shop.

"I asked for time till the next morning. I had nowhere to go," says Jaiswal.

His coach provided the homeless Jaiswal with a place to stay for about three months before a tent at a cricket field with groundsmen became somewhere he would rest his head at night.

"I thought I had a great chance living near a cricket ground. I could practice more than anyone else," Jaiswal says.

Finally, the tide turns

Unwilling to tell his family about his daily struggles in case they would ask him to return to the village, sleeping hungry became the new reality.

"I slowly realized it was really hard to live there. There was no electricity, no water, no food. You had to make your own food. At that time, my parents couldn't afford much," he explains.

To make ends meet, Jaiswal started selling food as a street vendor and did so for three years until the tide turned.

In December 2013, a then 12-year-old Jaiswal was practicing in the nets when he was spotted by cricket coach, Jwala Singh.

"He was batting well against senior fast bowlers. His story was unique," Singh, who had also moved to Mumbai at a young age to pursue his cricketing dream, tells CNN.

A week later, Singh tested the boy's skills at his own cricket academy and the rest is history.

Not only did Singh take the boy under his wing, but he also provided him with accommodation. Jaiswal still lives with Singh's family.

With a roof over his head, and a professional coach to guide him, Jaiswal's focus turned only to the game. In 2015, under Singh's tutelage, Jaiswal participated in the Giles Shield cricket tournament -- an inter-school cricket tournament in Mumbai. It was in this series that he scored a triple century in a match and scalped 13 wickets. An all-round record in school cricket, his feat was captured in India's Limca Book of Records.

Coincidentally, it was on the same day that Jaiswal's father visited Mumbai to take him back to the village. Singh says the young cricketer's big score, and an assurance from him, altered the father's decision.

The moment of reckoning

Singh realized his student needed more than just routine practice on cricket grounds, so he would occasionally take Jaiswal to meet established cricketers, once meeting former Indian cricketer Wasim Jaffer.

"Jaffer told Yashasvi that making runs is a habit, playing longer innings is an art. That is what people will remember you for," Singh says, pointing out that Jaffer's insight is a key reason why Yashasvi has scored over 62 centuries to date.

Awards and praise followed. Jaiswal was selected for Mumbai's under-16 squad and then India Under-19s.

He made his debut in the 50-over format in September 2019 for Mumbai in the Vijay Hazare Trophy and Jaiswal literally knocked the ball out of the stadium while playing against the team from Jharkhand state. The batsman scored 203 off 154, making him the youngest double centurion in the history of the 50-over game, List-A Cricket.

And then came another moment of reckoning. The boy who came to Mumbai with nothing but a big dream was selected in India's squad for the 2020 Under-19 World Cup.

Before he left for the much-anticipated series, the IPL auctions took place on December 19, 2019. Jaiswal was listed at a base price of $27,000 but was bought at 12 times the amount -- a staggering $327,000 - by the 2008 IPL champion.

"It was pretty normal since I had a good domestic season. My parents and sister were very excited. It was a good moment," he says of the price tag.

Jake Lush McCrum, the Royals' chief operating officer, vividly remembers the first time he met Jaiswal: "I had been in India for a few months at that point and I was just taken aback to be honest ... He had such a challenging start, but what he's overcome is immense, and how humble he is."

It's rare for a cricketer of Jasiwal's age to share a dressing room with cricket stars like England internationals, and Royals teammates, Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes

This village boy's ultimate dream is to wear India's senior team cricket jersey someday.

"I just want to play cricket as much as I can. I really love it," he says.

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