To wish that Prithvi Shaw is allowed to be himself than the ‘next’ anyone else is a bridge too far. But his freshness might just be what Team India needs at the top.
There are few things more gratifying than putting blood, sweat and tears into something, and finding that it bears fruit sooner than you expected. This has been the story of Prithvi Shaw’s life.
At 18 years and 349 days, Shaw walked out to bat in his first Test match for India Thursday. He lost his senior partner K.L. Rahul in the very first over, but then had the calming company of Cheteshwar Pujara at the other end.
What did Shaw do? Batted like he always has, looking to be positive, taking on the bowling, racking up a maiden Test century — 134 off only 154 balls, with 19 boundaries.
For sure, he looked good for more, but perhaps it’s a good thing he did not go too big. This is just the beginning, and there will be more hostile bowling attacks, tougher conditions and situations of greater pressure.
One thing Shaw is used to dealing with is the pressure of expectations. Ever since Sachin Tendulkar made his debut as a teenager, the Mumbai school of batsmanship has been in search of a natural heir. There was Vinod Kambli, who dazzled and burned. There was Amol Muzumdar, who scored mountains of domestic runs but could not break into the Indian team. More recently, there have been Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma, but neither of these fits the narrative quite as neatly as Shaw.
At 14, Shaw scored 546 for Rizvi Springfield, one of Mumbai’s traditional cricketing powerhouses at the grassroots, hitting 85 fours and five sixes in his 367-minute innings. But these statistical aberrations are an annual occurrence in Mumbai’s school cricket. Remember the boy who scored 1,000 runs in a match against much inferior opponents on a maidan with tiny boundaries and then faded into obscurity?
Well, Shaw did not fade. Rather, he made a hundred on his debut for Mumbai, the strongest Ranji Trophy team in the country, just like the little Godfather before him. He also cracked centuries in the Irani Cup and the Duleep Trophy.
The next year, at an age when most teenagers are celebrating the ability to get a driver’s licence or buy beer, Shaw led India to victory in the Under-19 World Cup. As if to show that this was no fluke, he solidified his reputation with five first-class centuries.
All this shows that Shaw, despite the hype around him from an early age, despite the massive expectations and media attention, has managed to take just the right trajectory.
Being blessed with potential, especially the genius kind as a prodigy, can be an equal curse. So much can go wrong in joining the dots from junior brilliance to senior performance, and yet Shaw has been careful to make each transition successfully.
Early last year, Rahul Dravid, coach of the India A and Under-19 teams, had this to say about Shaw: “He is a talented player but he’s got a long way to go. He has got lot to learn. None of them are finished products, all are learning along the way. He will get opportunities, he is going to have some ups and downs.”
But what did Dravid tell Shaw that allowed him to continue to grow and blossom? “In the practice sessions, I tried to get my back foot back and across, but it didn’t work for me. So Rahul sir said that it was not necessary for me to make the change,” said Shaw.
“I know that it’s a mistake to not get my back-leg in line with the ball, but since I’m scoring good runs, Rahul sir asked me to stick to what I’m comfortable with.”
When Shaw became the youngest Indian cricketer to score a century on Test debut, nobody really cared whether his back foot was going back and across according to the textbook or not. With India’s two most senior opening batsmen recently jettisoned — M. Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan — and Mayank Agarwal chomping at the bit to make a Test debut after a bumper domestic season, the manner in which Shaw dismissed doubt, discarded indecision and just batted like a teenager in love with the game was a joy to behold.
Being a short little fellow, with no beard or known tattoos yet, Shaw will invite more comparisons to Tendulkar than Virat Kohli, and this might be just the kind of fresh breeze that this Indian team needs.
To wish that Shaw is allowed to be the first Shaw rather than the next anyone else is a bridge too far. In India, we love nothing more than comparisons. But we can take a moment to just sit back, relax and enjoy what’s unfolding when a young man lives his dream.