Ordinary is not a word one uses to describe Prithvi Shaw.
There is nothing ordinary about 546 runs in an innings in school cricket. There is nothing ordinary about a teenager who scores a century on debut in Ranji Trophy. There is nothing ordinary about scoring a hundred and fifty in your first Duleep Trophy match. There is nothing ordinary about racking up five hundreds in nine first-class matches. There is nothing ordinary about being the captain of the Indian team in an Under-19 World Cup.
And yet, when you look at Shaw’s Under-19 ODI record through the prism of his talent, and the stern criticism that talent invites, you may agree that if not ordinary, it is certainly far from the extraordinary we now expect from him.
10 matches. 10 innings. 361 runs and no not outs.
While his lack of unbeaten innings is understandable with him being an attacking opening batter boasting of a strike rate of 99, just two fifty-plus scores in those 10 knocks makes his 361 runs just considerable and not sweeping.
This is underlined further by comparing Shaw's first-class average of 56 with his 36 in the U-19 ODI format. The picture gets clearer when his record is further compared to his team-mate, Shubman Gill, who averages 97 in just as many games in U-19 ODIs, and has three centuries and three more fifties.
Quick, flashy starts has defined Shaw’s youth ODI career so far, but as captain of the Indian team in a World Cup, he will expect more of himself. And the signs say that more is coming.
Since playing his last youth ODI in England, where he scored a half century against the hosts, Shaw has been cutting his teeth in top-flight domestic cricket.
First it was in the Duleep Trophy, where he tonned up on debut. Then he played List A games for India A against New Zealand A and soon went a step higher to turn out for the India Board President’s XI against the Black Caps.
In a game where Trent Boult opened the bowling, Shaw scored 66 off 80 balls and then came his incredible run in the Ranji Trophy, starting with his 123 against a Tamil Nadu bowling attack led by Ravichandran Ashwin.
A sensational season followed, and only in the quarter-final did he not score at least 50.
The value of these runs should not be measured in their volume, but the number of balls they consumed, and the time Shaw spent at the wicket.
For a player who likes to throw his hands at the ball with minimum footwork, especially while playing off the back foot, precise shot selection is paramount.
In limited overs cricket, one thinks first of which shot to play, but in first-class cricket, one thinks first of whether or not to play a shot.
Shaw cannot have succeeded in Ranji Trophy without developing discretion, and it will boost the chances of him converting his starts to big scores in limited overs cricket.
Shaw’s aforementioned technique, which has been compared to Virender Sehwag’s, could be exposed against a moving ball, and such conditions might present themselves in New Zealand and that is where his experience of playing in England will assist him.
For a 17-year-old, Shaw has the experience of multiple tours to England under his belt. At the age of 12, he participated in an exchange program with Cheadle Hulme School in Chershire and the next year, he played friendly games with the Gloucestershire County second XI, and featured in the Yorkshire Premiere League in 2014.
Last summer, he led India Under-19 in the ODI leg of India’s tour to England.
Firstpost spoke to Pankaj Shaw, Prithvi’s father, about how much this factor may play in his favour.
“When we play in England, the ball seams more, so that experience would really help him,” said Shaw Sr.
“They had their preparatory camp in Alur and Bangalore, where it is a bit cold. So he has said he is well prepared.”
Shaw’s extraordinary domestic season has also been accompanied by a media glare that can be blinding, but Pankaj Shaw is not worried about that affecting his son’s focus.
“He is that kind of boy that doesn’t look here and there”, said Pankaj. “In Mumbai cricket, we have so many matches, they make you very mentally strong. For many years, since he was small, he is getting media attention. So now he’s not afraid, he handles it.”
With India Under-19 coach Rahul Dravid having made it clear that first-class success is the priority and long term goal, Shaw has ticked those boxes even before the tournament begins. However, in his last run in Under-19 international cricket, Shaw will still look to leave an extraordinary legacy.
The writer is a former India cricketer and now a freelance sports journalist and broadcaster. She hosts the YouTube channel Cricket with Snehal, and tweets @SnehalPradhan
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