Gambling might be illegal in India, but I imagine Prithvi Shaw would be right at home in any casino. On second thought, he would probably be banned from one. Not for being too young — he is 18 now — but for being way too good at poker.
Shaw’s game face fits well; snug in the space between his tanned skin and the wispy moustache on his upper lip. Barely a trace of emotion escapes him while speaking to the press, and he always plays the right — if safe — cards. Having been in the public eye since the age of 13, it’s not surprising.
But when asked about the impending IPL auction after India’s quarterfinal win against Bangladesh, a wry smile escaped him. That is not to say that the prospect of becoming a crorepati overnight prompted a lapse. It was just another instance where he had been thinking ahead of the game.
“I was expecting a question at the press conference, that I would be asked about the auction. The wry smile was about that”, he said the day after being sold to Delhi Daredevils for Rs 1.2 crores.
Shaw was among three Indian players who were sold in the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction on Day One. While the captain might be the (poker) face of the squad, he was not the one who attracted the highest bids. Vice-captain Shubman Gill was snapped up by Kolkata Knight Riders for Rs 1.8 crores, and fast-bowling all rounder Kamlesh Nagarkoti did even better, going to the same franchise at Rs 3.2 crores.
“My friends kept calling me non-stop”, said Nagarkoti, who has impressed not just with his pace but also his athleticism in the field. “I didn’t pick up the phone. I didn’t watch my bidding. Andar se thoda nervous tha main (I was a little nervous). When my room partner Pankaj Yadav turned on the livestream, I couldn’t take it, so I went and sat inside the washroom even as my bidding kept going on.”
Nagarkoti needn’t have been so worried. As the standout bowler of the Under-19 World Cup so far, he was sure to be sought after, especially with fast bowling all-rounders being such a prized commodity in India. But then your first IPL auction can do that to you. After the hammer fell, he barely got to speak to his elated parents, as TV channels made a beeline to interview them. Now, he will get a chance to rub shoulders with two of his idols, Chris Lynn and Andre Russel.
Among the first to benefit from Gill’s not-so-unexpected windfall were young men in the Chak Kherwala village in Punjab, Gill’s hometown. As a child, his father would enlist these young men, then boys, to bowl at him. Conditions applied: they would earn Rs. 100 if they got him out. But that didn’t happen very often. "My father has already given them a party," said Gill the day after the auction.
It was around 11:30 pm in Christchurch when Gill’s name was drawn, the first of the colts to be auctioned. “When we turned it on, my bidding had reached Rs 1.2 crores. I found out the final price later, I didn’t watch”, he said.
There was a minor bidding war for Shaw between his home team Mumbai Indians and Delhi Daredevils. Daredevils eventually secured his services. “It doesn't matter if I got to Mumbai or any other team. Obviously there's a hope that I'm a Mumbai player and I'll go to the Mumbai team, but whatever happens is good. I’m obviously very happy.”
Three more players were picked up by franchises on Day Two: fast bowler Shivam Mavi became the third under-19 player to be picked up by KKR, for Rs 3 crores. Abhishek Sharma (Rs 55 lakh) and Manjot Kalra (Rs 20 lakh) will join Shaw at the Daredevils.
It was not joy for all though, as Himanshu Rana went unsold on the first day while Ishan Porel, Riyan Parag, and Anukul Roy didn't find any takers on the second. One imagines that Rana, who was also excluded from the XI for India’s last two games, might find it difficult to celebrate the success of him teammates for a few days. And this becomes important because India will take on Pakistan in the semifinal here on Tuesday.
“It feels very good to get a chance, but it’s important to live in the present and focus on the India-Pakistan semi-final”, said Gill. Nagarkoti also shared the perspective coach Rahul Dravid gave the team. “Dravid sir had a meeting with us. He told us, IPL auction will keep happening every year. Whether you get picked or no, don’t worry about that. Just focus on the Under-19 World Cup because we won’t have this opportunity again in our lives.”
The rest of the team could use Shaw’s skills at building facades. The next couple of days will more about compartmentalisation than celebration. The players must drown out the noise that surrounds the auction and settle into the task at hand. With the right focus this week, they might get twice the reasons to celebrate in the next.