The story of how Yashasvi Jaiswal rose from sleeping in a tent at Mumbai cricket ground to Indian cricket star

Nick Hoult
The Nightly
8 Min Read
In today’s episode, why Jaiswal, Indian cricket’s real-life Slumdog Millionaire, is set to terrorise the Aussie bowling attack next summer. Plus, Australia’s Ukraine shame and why NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb can’t get out of her own

Jwala Singh wipes a tear away as he sits in his office surrounded by cricket trophies and recalls a vow he made the day his father died. “I promised myself that someday I will make an India player.”

He has been true to his word, to the cost of the England team. Singh is the coach of Yashasvi Jaiswal, England’s tormentor who scored back-to-back Test double hundreds in India’s series win this month and is one of the world cricket’s brightest young batting talents.

And Australian fans should be worried with India touring Down Under next summer.

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What started out as a plan to chronicle Jaiswal’s rise from sleeping in a tent on the Azad Maidan in south Mumbai to the India team and IPL stardom turns into a tale of two men, coach and pupil, because their journeys on life’s path are equally remarkable.

Over the course of three hours travelling across Mumbai, Singh shares his story at various stop-offs on the way to the Azad Maidan where we finish our chat and he points to the spot where he first met a 12-year-old boy who helped him fulfil his promise to his dying father.

“We were playing on one of the pitches here and when the match was over I went to chat to a friend,” he said.

“There were two batsmen in the nets. One was complaining about the pitches and complaining about the groundsman, saying how could he bat on it? The other was a little left-hander who just batted brilliantly, without a word of complaint.

“I asked: ‘Who is that boy?’ My friend said: ‘Jwala, he has a lot of trouble. He left his family in his village. He is mad about cricket and I am scared something bad will happen to him.’ All of a sudden the batsman came over and I said: ‘What is your name?’ He said: ‘Yashasvi Jaiswal. I live in this tent.’ I said: ‘Where are your family?’ I was in shock he was living alone. I don’t like to talk about anybody’s poverty because I have been through it. His story is my story also.”

Jwala Singh discovered Yashasvi Jaiswal and helped make him the superstar he is today. (Photo by Philip Brown/Popperfoto/Popperfoto via Getty Images)
Jwala Singh discovered Yashasvi Jaiswal and helped make him the superstar he is today. (Photo by Philip Brown/Popperfoto/Popperfoto via Getty Images) Credit: Philip Brown/Popperfoto/ Philip Brown/Popperfoto

From that chance meeting, the young Jaiswal would move in with Singh, living with him and his wife until as recently as 2022. He still pops into the Air India Sports ground, perched almost on the end of the runway at Mumbai Airport, where Singh now has his academy and spent many hours coaching Jaiswal to bat.

As we talk, the Azad Maidan is very busy. There are at least 10 matches being played on this small triangular piece of ground on a Thursday afternoon, and Singh points out the pitch where Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli scored their world record schoolboy partnership of 664.

There is a bat-maker, who recently repaired Jaiswal’s bat, sanding down wood. A street food vendor wheels his cart on to the side of the ground, ready for the lunchtime rush on panipuri and sugar cane juice. It was a hawker like him who used to ask Jaiswal to help sell his street snacks to the players for a few rupees pocket money.

The groundsman’s tent where Jaiswal lived for two years, which had no electricity and would flood in the monsoon, has been swallowed up by a building site as Mumbai’s relentless growth eats away at the historic maidans.

At one end is the Bombay Gymkhana, where the first Test match was played in India and you need an invitation to enter. We are standing at the northern end close to where Mahatma Gandhi once addressed thousands in 1931 during India’s uprising. Azad actually means liberty in Persian. Freedom to chase a dream links Jaiswal and his coach because both left small villages in the state of Uttar Pradesh as boys to make their names in Mumbai.

Singh moved to Mumbai in 1995, hoping to be tutored by the legendary Ramakant Achrekar, the coach of Sachin Tendulkar. “I was a very big fan of his,” he said.

Yashasvi Jaiswal is reunited with his friend Raju Bhai  at the Azad Maidan ground in 2018. Jaiswal helped sell snacks at the ground as a teen to make ends meet.
Yashasvi Jaiswal is reunited with his friend Raju Bhai at the Azad Maidan ground in 2018. Jaiswal helped sell snacks at the ground as a teen to make ends meet. Credit: Hindustan Times/ Hindustan Times

He takes us to the place where he lived for three years, sleeping in a mosquito-infested room in a gymnasium which he would have to leave at 5am when people would come in to work out.

“My father was a veterinary doctor earning around 6000 rupees a month ($110) and he took a loan out and gave me money and told me to make my name in Mumbai. He got a lot of abuse for letting me leave the village and come here. I decided that after two years I would not take any money from my family,” he said.

Singh was a fast bowler and the lack of strength and conditioning advice and no doubt sleeping on the floor of a gym, took its toll and injuries ended his hopes after playing state-level age team cricket.

“I collapsed one day injured and that was the worst day of my life. My dreams were finished that day. I did not have money for surgery. I did not dare to talk to my family. If I tell them they will say come back to the village because I was good at studies. After those injuries, I started coaching kids and earning money,” he said.

“Then one day my father called and said he had grade four cancer. That was on Sep 14, 2009. I was totally broken. I thought I need to take care of my father and asked him to come to Mumbai to live with me. He came for two months and on November 10 he expired. That is when I made my promise to make an India player. I gave myself five years to find someone or I would leave cricket for good.”

It took just a year, not five, for his path to cross with Jaiswal. There were early difficulties. Jaiswal found himself banned from playing in local matches because someone had forged a birth certificate for him so he could register with the local cricket authorities.

“The hardest thing was he was mentally weak and upset. Because of that birth certificate people blackmailed him. They said if you play we will show this certificate to the association and you will go to jail. That was what he said to me. Because of that he said: ‘I don’t want to play, I will go to jail.’ I said I would look after it,” he said.

RAJKOT, INDIA - FEBRUARY 18: India batsman Yashasvi Jaiswal celebrates after reaching his double century during day four of the 3rd Test Match between India  and England at Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium on February 18, 2024 in Rajkot, India. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
Yashasvi Jaiswal celebrates after reaching his double century during the third Test Match against England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images) Credit: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Jaiswal played in a Harris Shield tournament, an inter-state school competition and scored 47 runs and took five wickets.

“I said to him: ‘Did any police come? Did you go to jail?’ ‘No sir,’ he said. I said: ‘I am with you and will take care.’ He played in his next game and scored 319 not out in a three-day game. His father came to meet me. I said Yashasvi can live here and stay with me and I promise to help him with everything. His father became very emotional. He said he was here to take him back to the village. He said: ‘We are helpless. We are not able to help my boy anymore. Now you are his father, mother and guardian. You look after him. You decide what to do. You are the owner of his life.’ They left him at my place. From there I started working with him,” he said.

In time Singh became Yashasvi’s legal guardian. We travel to his first house, which is now used by the current intake at his academy as a hostel, and he shows us Yashasvi’s old bedroom. As we speak a jumbo jet takes off at the airport, a stone’s throw away, and it is hard to hear each other talk. Next we move to Singh’s current home where there are photos of them eating cake and yet more trophies. Big trophies too that take two hands to pick up.

“He was living with us as my son. I would get up early, take him to the ground. When there used to be matches on he would start his batting in the nets at 9am, then he would play the game and then he would net again on his own, that is how hard-working he was,” he said.

“One day I took him to a shop to buy a file for his newspaper cuttings. He went in and bought a very small file. I said that is no good. I went in and asked the shopkeeper for the biggest file he had. He filled it in two years.”

Jaiswal never needed much technical help. He was naturally gifted and Singh talks mainly about his temperament. “He wanted to bat a very long time. He made a lot of big scores. That is his way,” he said.

In 2019 Jaiswal scored 203 in a 50-over match. He made 171 on Test debut, two double hundreds against England this month and has scored three other first-class double hundreds.

The Azad Maidan in Mumbai. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
The Azad Maidan in Mumbai. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images) Credit: Robert Cianflone/ Robert Cianflone

Others helped too. Singh credits former India players Dilip Vengsarkar and Wasim Jaffer as mentors and also the Rajasthan Royals, Jaiswal’s IPL team, for invaluable input. Singh’s academy has now coached more than 300 boys and takes children on scholarship from the villages as well as those who can pay.

Prithvi Shaw, currently out of the India team, was one of his charges and Hamza Sheikh, who plays for Warwickshire and was the victim of the obstructing-the-field fiasco playing for England at the Under-19s World Cup, has regularly worked with Singh – who shows a text he sent to Hamza’s father three years ago saying one day he would play for England Under-19s.

The day of Jaiswal’s Test debut last July in the West Indies was the culmination of Singh’s work but he was in the UK, unable to watch, because his academy was touring to play several leading public schools.

“I know this sounds very frank but by then I knew he would play for India. That was my trust in him and his hard work. I always used to tell him where I left my cricket, you are starting off on your journey. We made sure he did not have the same hardships when he started living with us and because of his hard work, he has reached the top,” he said.

The heat of the sun suggests it is lunch. But Singh is busy watching the cricket on the Maidan: “I’m only 41. I have 20 years left. I want to make 11 India players.”

There is a young boy who is not much older than 12 who is batting nicely. He is half the size of his adult team-mates but clearly a cut above. Is he the next one?

“This is why I come back to Azad Maidan. They come in every day, a long time on the train. There are no sightscreens, not much grass, every game backs on to the other. If you can stand out here you have great strength. Yeah, this kid is good, let’s just watch for a bit,” he said.

A chance meeting. It is how the Jaiswal story started. Perhaps another one is beginning.

© Nick Hoult / Telegraph Media Group Limited 2023

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