"Prithvi la bhetaila ala aahes (Have you come to meet Prithvi)?" a man in his mid 40s nicely dressed up in formals asks in excitement as we enquire about local MLA Sanjay Potnis' shakha in Santacruz, located in the western suburb of Mumbai.
Seventeen-year-old Prithvi Shaw is the talk of the town. He has just become the second youngest Mumbai cricketer after Sachin Tendulkar to hit a century on Ranji Trophy debut. Mumbai's school cricket has constantly churned out child prodigies and Shaw is certainly one.
The 17-year old shot to limelight four years ago when he rewrote history books by scoring 546 for Rizvi Springfield in the Harris Shield inter-school tournament and became the holder of the highest individual score in school cricket at that time. Since then, he has been held in high regard. Four years later, he has taken another big step forward with a century on debut in Ranji Trophy.
Local leader Potnis has provided crucial support to Shaw in his quest to become a cricketer and the camaraderie between the two is palpable as Potnis beams with pride after every confident answer that Shaw gives.
Shaw is constantly fiddling with his phone as we enter Potnis' office. He shows no sign of nerves as the cameraman runs a test check. An innocent smile spread across his face as we congratulate him on the special ton. He is calm and composed, just as he was in the fourth innings against Tamil Nadu in the Ranji semi-final, helping Mumbai chase down a tricky target of 251. He talks to Firstpost about his special debut innings, his stint in England four years ago, the pressure of playing for Mumbai and much more. Excerpts:
FP: Prithvi, have you partied after scoring your century?
Prithvi Shaw: No, not yet.
FP: Right. You would be busy preparing for the finals...
FP: It was the semi-final and your debut. You were chasing a tricky target of 251 on a last day pitch. What went through your mind as you stepped out to bat?
Shaw: I spoke to Chandu (Chandrakant Pandit) sir in the morning, and the plan was to play my natural game. The wicket was difficult, because it was a fifth day and rough patches and cracks had started to appear, but the plan was to play a normal game and stick to it. If we were to be too defensive, we might have struggled. Sir said it was fine to go for shots and play my natural game.
FP: When you came in late on Day 4 you had to see off a tricky period. What was your approach then?
Shaw: My approach was just to see off the few overs that were left, because if we were to manage it, which we did in the end, it would have been much easier to bat the next day, when the fast bowlers would have come in to bowl. Playing the spinners would have been a bit tough on that wicket. Playing the fast bowlers was also difficult, but as much as it was to play the spinners.
FP: When did you find out that you were going to debut?
Shaw: I got a call around four or five days before the semi-final saying I had to play.
FP: And what was your reaction?
Shaw: I was really happy. I didn’t expect to be called directly for the semi-final, but the selectors and coaches had trust in me, and I’m grateful to them.
FP: Did you have any special preparation before that?
Shaw: I was playing with the India U-19 side for the Asia Cup; so that was a different kind of preparation. After that I spent two-three days with the Ranji team and worked with the coaches and players, and it created positive vibes, which I think helped me perform so well.
FP: The Mumbai dressing room is the place to be in domestic cricket. How did you feel being a part of such a prestigious dressing room?
Shaw: It felt really good sharing the dressing room with experienced players like Abhishek Nayar, Aditya Tare, Suryakumar Yadav and (Sreyas) Iyer. All the players supported me and they never let me feel lonely. They stayed with me and shared their experiences with me. So I think it was really great.
FP: Did you get a special message from someone like Sachin Tendulkar prior to the match?
FP: You’ve played some big innings. You have scored 546, triple century and double century. Where do you get the hunger to score such big runs?
Shaw: Right from the start, ever since my U-14 camps, all the coaches had taught me about the 'Khadoos' (Gritty, Unrelenting, win at all costs) spirit of Mumbai cricket. So right from very young age they have instilled this 'Khadoos' attitude in me. Since that point I have developed this attitude (and hunger for big scores).
FP: How have you planned some of your big innings? Do you plan them session by session, or 100 by 100? Scoring 500 means you have to spend a lot of time at the crease...
Shaw: I don’t plan it too elaborately, there are just small targets I set for myself. Cross 10 runs, get set, play the ball according to its merit. I don’t strategise too much while batting, just make small plans.
FP: You played quite aggressively in the semi-final, despite it being a difficult track. Does this aggression come naturally, or have you developed it over time?
Shaw: It has always been my natural game.
FP: Has anyone ever told you to tone down your aggression or play cautiously?
Shaw: You have to evaluate that based on the situation. When you have to show your temperament, when you have to play aggressively. So you have to adjust according to the situation.
FP: In the first innings you were dismissed for four. What did you do once you returned to the dressing room? Did you prepare differently or speak to anyone, or did you get any suggestions?
Shaw: After the first innings, Chandu sir called me aside and told me to observe the game because my seniors were still at the crease. He told me to observe the way they started their innings and the tactics they used, which I did for the next one-and-a-half to two days.
FP: What did you learn from that? Was there anything particular that you observed that struck you?
Shaw: I think playing the Ranji Trophy is very different from the U-19s. There are experienced players who show temperament during the start of their innings, and I learnt that.
FP: You apparently didn’t know that you were on 99. Does that happen often with you? Do you not know when you’re close to important milestones?
Shaw: Actually, I don’t count my scores. So I don’t know what score I am on because I am usually just focused on my batting.
FP: When you realised that the delivery you got out to on 99 was a no ball, did it make you conscious?
Shaw: When I got out on 99 and it was deemed a no ball, my inner voice told me that I need just one run, so I need to play it safe. From then on, I was determined to not rush it.
FP: What was Suryakumar telling you when you were in that phase?
Shaw: Surya bhai just said that I needed one run so, I should not waste the opportunity.
FP: You’ve been through a lot of hardship, and you’ve worked really hard. You used to travel from Virar to Bandra for practice everyday, travelling for two hours each way. Do you think your hardships made you mentally tough?
Shaw: Yes, because I used to face issues during travelling. Thanks to Sanjay Potnis sir, who is my uncle, I was able to live in Santacruz. So my four hour travel got reduced, and I was able to practice hard. And practising that well has now helped me achieve these milestones.
FP: Who is your biggest inspiration?
Shaw: Of course, Sachin (Tendulkar) sir.
FP: What have you tried to emulate from his game?
Shaw: I watch videos of him batting in different situations to learn how to play in various conditions, and even his discipline off the field is something to learn from. So he is my role model.
FP: Did you always want to open the innings, or did someone advise you to do so?
Shaw: I always wanted to open.
FP: As an opener, what’s your biggest challenge?
Shaw: The biggest challenge would be to play for long enough so that it’s easier for the middle order batsmen when they come in. There’s a responsibility to play out the crucial initial 10-15 overs and make it easier for the middle order batsmen.
FP: Have you followed or idolised any opening batsmen?
Shaw: No particular opening batsman as such, but I follow international cricket a lot and observe how the opening pairs play.
FP: You’ve done two stints in England. So what did you learn from the time you spent there?
Shaw: I got some good experience there. As far as the cricket is concerned, it’s quite cold and windy there, so the ball swings, and I got to learn a lot. I have practised a lot there, and once you play with a swinging ball, it gets a bit easier to play here. The wickets are different there, so it’s important to learn from that too.
FP: When you first went there, you would have found the wickets different from the ones you played on in India. Did you have any issues playing in those conditions?
Shaw: In the beginning it was tough, because I couldn’t read the conditions or the wickets, but once I had practised and played a few matches, the experience helped me play better.
FP: As you’ve grown as a cricketer, do you think your ability to read the pitch has improved?
Shaw: Yes. If you want to play good professional cricket, I think it’s important to understand the pitch and weather conditions.
FP: Mumbai has produced some brilliant batsmen who have gone on to play international cricket, and has a legacy of churning out good batsmen. So do you feel any pressure to live up to Mumbai’s reputation?
Shaw: There’s no pressure as such. If you practise and focus on your game, contributing to the team gets easier. Of course, there’ll always be ups and downs, but you need to be focused. We’ve reached the Ranji Trophy final for the 46th time, and it’s important that we win it for the 42nd time.
FP: Who is the toughest bowler you’ve faced until now?
Shaw: I don’t think I’ve faced any such bowler.
FP: So all the bowlers have been easy?
Shaw: Not easy exactly, but I manage.
FP: What’s your biggest strength?
Shaw: I think I am always positive, and manage to read situations well.
FP: After India A, India U-19 and now the Ranji, how has your life changed?
Shaw: When I went to India A, Rahul (Dravid) sir was the coach, and I gained a lot of experience. He’s a legend, so I got to learn a lot from him. I felt positive vibes before the matches, and I think I have been learning something or the other from all these coaches I have been playing under.
FP: What advice of Rahul Dravid has got deeply ingrained in you?
Shaw: He wouldn’t say much, but would always give me positive thoughts. Even if I got out early, I never felt like he was putting any negative thoughts into my mind. I think the positivity he gave me has helped me a lot to put away the negative thoughts and perform well.
FP: What’s the secret to the stamina you have displayed while playing long innings? Do you pay a lot of attention to your fitness?
Shaw: If you are going to play for five days consecutively, you need to stay fit. All of my trainers have helped me work hard in the gym. The physios help during times when you are injured, and because of these people I have managed to stay fit.
FP: Have you started your preparation for the Ranji finals?
Shaw: Yes, the preparations are on.
FP: And are you going to meet Sachin Tendulkar before the final to get some tips?
Shaw: Well, I don’t know that, but I hope so.