Coming up with a fitting celebration for dismissing AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli in the same match can be difficult for any bowler. To do that after getting de Villiers out in back-to-back IPL seasons can pose twice the challenge. But, not only has Shreyas Gopal, the Karnataka and Rajasthan Royals wristspinning allrounder, aced the celebration game, the quality of his wicket-taking deliveries through IPL 2019 has generated a whirlpool of buzz around the 25-year-old.
"To get them out is one of the biggest moments of my cricketing journey," Shreyas told ESPNcricinfo. "Not many people have too many plans against them because they are world-class players."
Shreyas is the side's second-highest wicket-taker this season with eight wickets, and the de Villiers and Kohli dismissals were part of a haul of 3 for 12 in a home match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, where he also dismissed Shimron Hetmyer. Last season, he had taken 4 for 16, a performance that helped knock out Royal Challengers. While that four-for featured only de Villiers' wicket among the two big names, it was, perhaps, a more accurate testament to Shreyas' control over the googly.
"If you compare my googly to Rashid Khan's, I think he has a far deadlier googly; it is something I want to learn. He has a very different grip. I don't change too much [with mine]. It's just the normal legspin, and normal googly I bowl."
In that match, Shreyas had de Villiers stumped with the wrong'un and had even dismissed Moeen Ali earlier with it. A variation for most wristspinners, the googly in his arsenal is a stock ball against left-handers. He bowls nearly three times more wrong'uns than legbreaks to left-hand batsmen, and has most wickets - both right- and left-hand batsmen included - off googlies this IPL than any other spinner. Shreyas is also the joint-second most successful bowler in the middle overs in IPL since 2018, with 19 wickets. Imran Tahir leads this list with 21 wickets, while Rashid Khan also has 19 dismissals.
Against his former franchise Mumbai Indians last Saturday, Shreyas bowled two cracking googlies in the first over to another left-hand batsman, Quinton de Kock. The result? He beat Mumbai's top-scorer in both instances and conceded seven runs off 11 balls to de Kock. Against the other Royals bowlers, de Kock struck at a rate of 125 or more.
A craft he "only properly" began cultivating during his Under-17 days, Shreyas insists "there isn't much trick" to his wrong-un, unlike the variants used by some of his contemporaries.
"If you compare my googly to Rashid Khan's," said Shreyas, "I think he has a far deadlier googly. It is something I want to learn. He has a very different grip. I don't change too much [with mine]. It's just the normal legspin, and normal googly I bowl."
J Arunkumar - the two-time Ranji Trophy-winning former Karnataka coach, who handed Shreyas a first-class debut in the 2013-14 domestic season - believes there is a mix of factors that make Shreyas' googly efficient.
"First, it's his arm-speed, which may be a bit slower for other bowlers of the googly," Arunkumar said. "In Shreyas' case, the ball comes out of his hand at nearly the same speed, which makes it difficult for the batsman to read it from the fingers. So the only thing you can do is try and read it through the air, which is not the easiest of things to do. And he's also mastered the length - he doesn't pitch it right up nor is it short. So the batsman is in doubt whether if it will come in or go away - often like a top-spinner."
Does Shreyas agree with Arunkumar's dissection of his googly?
"I am not aware of my arm-speed or things like that, to be honest. It's something that's really natural to me. I've almost had that same action right through my small career so far, and I don't think I can change that now either, so it's just going to be that way."
For someone who grew up idolising Anil Kumble and Shane Warne, he also had the opportunity to hone his craft under the watch of those two greats: first at Mumbai Indians, where Shreyas played only six games across three seasons (2014-16), and subsequently at Royals, who picked him at the 2018 auction.
Kumble was the mentor at Mumbai when he handpicked Shreyas. "Anil sir picked me (for IPL 2014) when I was in the Under-19s, and it's something I'm really grateful for. Interacting with so many of the best players in the world [during those three seasons], you try and take their thoughts and experiences into your cricket back home and train on that.
"And the subtle changes, and variations and just the mindset, I think, if you bring that into your game, you are definitely going to be a better player. Because the best part [about Kumble] was he was never shy or hesitant about giving me any insights, which I'm trying to use in my game."
Warne, too, added depth to his understanding and knowledge of the nuances of wristspin. "Warney [Shane Warne] was a great mentor last year. He's someone who's very tactical in his moves, likes having different strategies and field placements for each batsman. That's how he works. So [he gave me] small tips on how to study a batsman, bring in subtle variations - it could be in terms of bowling, or my run-up, speed to the ball, different kinds of loading. Again, for him it was easy, but if I'm able to get to about halfway there, I'll be happy."
Shreyas first made waves playing for Jain College in the now-defunct Toyota University Cricket Championship in 2012-2013, a breeding ground for cricketers in Bengaluru like Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey and Karun Nair. Arunkumar's earliest encounter with Shreyas happened around that time, at the Karnataka Under-23 nets, where he began grooming the allrounder alongside Nair and KL Rahul.
At the time, though, Shreyas' cricketing credentials rested largely on his batting, which, in hindsight, said Arunkumar, makes his rise through the Karnataka and Royals ranks as a wristspinning-allrounder even more remarkable.
"That's because Shreyas was a talented bowler all through, but [he] was not serious about his bowling initially," Arunkumar said, laughing. "He was like, 'I'm a batsman and I can bowl a little.' So, even if he got hit, he wouldn't be bothered much. But when we picked him for Ranji and explained to him the role we wanted him to play in the side, I could see the extra effort he would put in."
A top-order bat for most of his early age-group cricket, Shreyas' willingness to turn his secondary skill into a primary asset set him on course to reinventing himself as someone capable of doubling up as his captain's strike bowler. Soon enough, recounted Arunkumar, Karnataka, benefitted from Shreyas' industry.
"To his credit, the batsman Shreyas Gopal started bowling two-three hours in the nets to shape himself into a legspin-bowling allrounder. As a result, in his debut Ranji season, once our pacers would run through the top order, we would rely on Shreyas to take two-three middle-order wickets, at times even five.
"Shreyas was instrumental to our wins because prior to that point, those middle-order wickets had become a bit of a concern for us. Every so often oppositions would be, say, 150 for 5 and then suddenly 270-odd for 6. So Shreyas came in started getting us those crucial middle-order wickets."
Finishing with a match haul of five wickets on Ranji Trophy debut, and then turning in consistent performances with the ball in subsequent seasons, Shreyas gradually emerged as a first-choice bowling option on the team sheet. His tally of 200-plus wickets across domestic competitions includes a hat-trick against Rest of India in the 2014 Irani Cup title triumph, also the first ever such feat in the tournament. More recently, he took 13 wickets at an average of 9.30 in Karnataka's 2019 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy victory.
Shreyas strengthened his case for selection across formats, Arunkumar underscores, with his "ability to get quick hundreds". His four first-class tons, two of which came during Karnataka's back-to-back title triumphs, lend credence to that claim. His maiden Ranji Trophy hundred against Bengal saw him score at a strike rate of 73.6 batting at No. 9.
His quick-hitting prowess came to the fore recently with a seven-ball 19 against Chennai Super Kings and a seven-ball 13, the latter memorably helping Royals clinch a final-over win at the Wankhede.
The reliance on both skills, Shreyas admitted, has helped him feed one discipline off the other. But neither would have flourished, he added, had he not chosen to bowl legspin in the first place.
"When I was little, I was always told there aren't too many legspinners around, so that was one of the reasons I really tried doing it. If it worked, it worked, otherwise I always had batting to fall back on. Having said that, it was one of my better choices to having taking legspin seriously."
He possesses a strong fielding acumen too, as seen in the back-pedalling catches to dismiss Chennai Super Kings' Shane Watson and Mumbai's Kieron Pollard last week. Shreyas, who is gradually progressing, has a desire to play for India eventually.
"Everyone's dream is to play for India, mine is nothing less. But I don't want to get or think too ahead of myself. It's just been the start of a couple of good IPLs that I've had; in fact, a couple of games I've had, not even seasons. It is important I have my head on my shoulders and continue to put in the same hard work and leave the rest."
All stats correct as of before Delhi Capitals v Mumbai Indians, on April 18, 2019