"I got a feeling like I was worthless though I was happy that the team was doing well. I said to myself ‘I need to pull up my socks’. There is a saying, ‘hard work beats talent’. I told myself all this talent is fine but it’s of no use if I don’t work hard. It was the saddest day of my life (when I was dropped after the first Test in Australia). I went to my room and broke down. I felt like something wrong was happening. I needed answers quickly."
The hurt, frustrations and disappointment were stacked somewhere at the back of the mind during and after the Australian tour. There had to be a point where the emotion valve had to be released for Prithvi Shaw. That point arrived after scoring 754 runs at an average of 188.5 in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. He laid his emotions bare in a heart to heart interview to the Indian Express after hitting 165 for Mumbai against Karnataka in the semi-final. He let his bat do the talking again before letting out his emotions. The interview provided a sneak peek into the mind of a young cricketer when he is going through a difficult phase.
Shaw had a tough time in Australia. After scores of 40, 3, 0 and 4 in the practice matches and pink-ball Test in Adelaide respectively, he was dropped from the team with his technique and fitness pored over. From hitting a century on Test debut to suffering an injury before his potential overseas debut in Australia to getting suspended for doping violation to getting dropped from the Indian team, Shaw has travelled a bumpy ride in his relatively short international career so far. However, every time he's fallen down, he has found a way to get back up.
After hitting 165 in the semi-final of the Vijay Hazare Trophy 2021, the Mumbai opener hit a blistering 39-ball 73 in the final to help his team chase down 313 against Uttar Pradesh, along with seasoned veteran and senior pro Aditya Tare (118).
Shaw didn't just score big in the tournament, he shattered records, scoring 827 runs from eight innings at a staggering average of 165.40 to set the record of scoring most runs in a single edition in the history of the tournament.
Two years ago, Shaw hit a 39-ball 63 for Mumbai against Assam at the Wankhede Stadium in the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy, playing his first competitive cricket in six months after his doping ban and finished the tournament with 240 runs from five matches at 48 and strike rate of 170.21.
Shaw's recent struggles had started much before the Australian tour. In the IPL 2020, he could manage just 228 runs from 13 games at 17.53 in a tournament where Delhi Capitals ended as runners-up. Shaw was dropped in the group stage, brought back and dropped again for Qualifier 2 and final. In the last eight innings, he could manage just 49 runs.
The 2021 Vijay Hazare trophy presented Shaw with his first step towards resurgence. He made sure he didn't waste this opportunity. The next step is IPL 2021 which presents him the chance to sing the redemption song.
So what sparked a turnaround for Shaw in the Vijay Hazare Trophy?
It was a combination of factors.
"Getting dropped from the Indian team has hurt him a lot and he is strongly determined to make a comeback, to make a statement," Shaw's Mumbai teammate Tare tells Firstpost. "It all goes down to his determination as a cricketer to make a strong statement in terms of getting back to where he thinks he deserves. He's got a strong determination to get back into the Indian team and he's letting his bat talk."
Experts had pointed out glitches in his technique and how he was troubled by incoming deliveries. He was constantly getting bowled between the bat and pad. He got castled in both the innings of the Adelaide Test. The bat was coming down at an angle from gully and he was playing away from the body. With a high backlift, he seemed to be late on the ball.
The Mumbai batsman worked on the issue with head coach Ravi Shastri and batting coach Vikram Rathour in Australia. He got an extended helping hand from Delhi Capitals when he came back home. The franchise asked assistant coach Pravin Amre to work with Shaw in Mumbai. Amre has in the past wielded his magic wand to help out many cricketers during their tough times. He had just five days to make a difference with Shaw. Amre assembled his support staff at Shivaji Park, the breeding ground of cricketers in Mumbai and along with Delhi Capitals' strength conditioning coach Rajinikanth Sivagnanam, the process was set in motion.
"I personally felt like Prithvi needed help because any player who is dropped from the side, he will be definitely down and that's where we (Delhi management) decided to help him," Amre tells Firstpost.
"We had a proper meeting with the management with Prithvi and discussed what exactly he wants, what exactly is wrong and why he is not able to perform. Because when you get dropped from the team, you get mentally down and then you start thinking (about) so many things. We understood that he needed emotional support and help skill and fitness wise because it's important to gain consistency."
Amre wanted to utilise these five days to the fullest. His research wheels had been set in motion well in advance by analysing Shaw's dismissals. It wasn't just the past, the first day of the practice session was spent recording Shaw's current videos and plotting the inaccuracies.
"We showed him all his videos and we made it clear to him that we are not going to change his natural game, but somewhere we need to have the correction because he wasn't able to score runs. Once he agreed, my job became easy," Amre says.
The morning sessions were dedicated to the gym with Rajnikanth while in the afternoons, he was doing two-hour 'tough' net sessions where Amre made sure Shaw got 'really exhausted'. It was a quality based training where specifics on his batting like bat swing and footwork were worked upon.
"My funda is simple, when you are in form at that time your footwork is good and you present the full face of the bat to the ball," explains Amre. "So when he was getting bowled, his bat wasn't coming full face. That was the area I had to work on. See, ultimately the decision is his – whether he wants to defend or attack but before that his bat has to come straight to meet the ball-full face, 100 percent bat face. Whether he was playing 50 or 60 percent, it matters. So we tried to convince him, the way he wants to play he can play but then he needs to play with the full face of the bat. I showed him his foot positions, where he was getting when he was meeting the ball and then showed him where he was supposed to be. Same thing with the bat swing also how his bat swing was coming and how it was supposed to come."
The other concern was lack of time spent at the crease. Shaw had eight single digit scores from 13 innings including three ducks in IPL 2020, and in ten innings he got out inside the first five overs including a staggering five dismissals in the first over. So the focus was the number of balls and not the runs or records. It was about playing deep and long. Amre also worked on strengthening his strengths further.
The results of the hard work were visible in the Vijay Hazare Trophy where Shaw scored daddy hundreds and finished off matches. His century scores read: 105 not out, 227 not out, 185 not out, 165. He didn't get bowled throughout the series and was LBW just once, that too after scoring 165.
"Even last year, we analysed that it wasn't like the good balls were getting him out, he made mistakes, it was errors in his judgment and all those things," Amre explains. "I told him that even a Don Bradman can get out on zero – it's not wrong to get out early but it's also not good that you are throwing away your wicket. You should have that price tag on your wicket when you play any tournament.
"We didn't want to stop his natural game. That was the challenge. We didn't want to shut off his shots. But he should be in the correct position to play that shot, it was that simple. He was getting out because he wasn't getting into that position to play the shot. We also made sure that in these five days he was going to enjoy this hard work...And he was. I am a quiet and an easy-going person off the field but when it comes to coaching, I am very tough. Those two hours of drills were so tough on him. I made sure those 2 hours are purposeful sessions where he is going to learn in every session regarding his batting, footwork and skill."
The short ball was another area the bowlers had targeted for Shaw in the IPL. Amre had a separate session for playing short stuff in the nets. The ability to play the short ball is one of his biggest strengths according to Amre and he unfurled those pulls in the Vijay Hazare Trophy by picking up the lengths early.
What also acted as a catalyst was the 'free' and 'happy' environment that the Mumbai team management, led by coach Ramesh Powar, created. Ahead of the Vijay Hazare tournament, during one-on-one session with Shaw, Powar analysed Shaw's mind and decided to give him a free hand. Sometimes over information can have a counter effect so Powar wanted to give Shaw all the freedom.
"I didn't talk cricket with him," Powar tells Firstpost. "I knew that a lot of people had given him the input. I was only asking him what he was feeling and what he wants to get out of this tournament. He said, only keep the team environment and atmosphere healthy and happy, I want to see happy places. That's where I and support staff got the hint that he wants the surroundings to be happy and we picked his mindset which was something on the lines of 'mujhe mere haal pe chhod do, mujhe pata hai mai kyaa kar raha hu.' (Leave me alone. I know what I am doing). So we gave him the freedom. He was in a happy place with the Mumbai team I felt. Because he had many friends, a lot of junior cricketers had played with him, so he was very comfortable. It made a difference which is what I felt."
Powar felt that spending time with himself along with having the responsibility of leading the team in absence of senior players at the fag end of the tournament helped Shaw.
"He spent time with himself in quarantine in Jaipur," Powar says. "That helped I think because we were allowed to visit each other's room. So there was nowhere to go. If you are locked up in your room, you end up getting some self-realisation about a lot of things. If I do something good then something good will happen. Obviously, he might have gone through a good thought process.
"He did a lot of shadow practice on the wall and he got into the ready position a bit early as compared to the past. When we practised on the first day in Jaipur, his batting had become perfect by then (compared to the first day we practiced in Mumbai) and after that the kind of flow he achieved, he never stopped. One day I asked him on the bus, suddenly after Australia how did you manage to perform at this level? He said, ‘Sir this is nothing, I knew what was the technical flaw and what needed to be done for it and I was doing that. The only thing was I was preparing myself for it because it was a new thing so I needed to do visualisation and think over it repeatedly.’"
While he plundered heaps of runs in Vijay Hazare, it was his defence that impressed Powar.
"We felt that he was defending very well," says Powar. "Everyone knows he can hit the ball but he was negotiating the first five overs really well. He was putting away the loose balls and the deliveries which were coming in, which were troubling him, he was defending them very well. We saw a difference in mindset basically. As a coach I felt that he was giving respect to inswingers (initially). Once he gets settled he hits any ball in his range and even the good balls too. I felt he increased his game sense."
Yes, he was hitting the good balls too after that initial period. Tare had the best seat in the house 22 yards away throughout the tournament.
"His ability to hit boundaries off good balls (is something that impressed me in the tournament),” Tare says.” Everyone hits boundaries off bad balls but he's got the ability to pick the length early and even if it's not that short for some other batsman, he just makes it into a short ball. If it's a good length ball, he just punches on the up. This ability to hit boundaries off good balls sets him apart."
Not just the on-field heroics, Powar was impressed with Shaw's off field leadership as well which in turn helped him on the field.
"The way he handled the young players in the team was very impressive," Powar says. "He was hands on, he was doing everything possible - devising strategies, meetings...You have to give time to the coach and young players as a captain or someone who feels he wants access to the captain and needs confidence from captain and he was giving everyone time and was having good conversation with them. I have hardly seen any India player who bowls two hours straight to the juniors, throwdowns. Before the final, he didn't even bat, in our two hours of practice he bowled sidearm in a different net to a lot of players – juniors, seniors and those who were not going to play. It was very heartening. He understands what is happening and how you build the team. Which was a good thing."
While he was going through a tough phase, Delhi Capitals kept faith in him and retained him ahead of the auctions. With runs under his belt, both Shaw and the franchise would be relieved as well as confident ahead of the new season with renewed expectations.
"We were lucky we could work it out in five days, sometimes it takes even 50 days to get the work done. No one thought he will perform to that level. And credit goes to him. We have already got very talented and quality players but now we have a good headache to pick the playing eleven," says Amre.
"He knows that like Vijay Hazare this is also going to be very important for him and for us also, we brought him in our team with some purpose and we are hoping that he will deliver on that purpose for the team."
It's not just a redemption song for the IPL, a prolific season in the league could be crucial in bringing him back on the selection radar amidst intense competition. IPL has made and reinvigorated many careers in the past.
"He is himself quite determined to make a comeback into the Indian team and he knows it himself that he's got enough talent to do exceedingly well at the international level,” says Tare. “All these setbacks keep coming and he is very young so it's good that he is facing this early on in his career which will definitely make him a stronger individual.
"He's someone who is really confident about himself and his batting. And has a lot of faith in his abilities. It's just a matter of time, he will go back into that Indian team.
“I was telling him that he is too good a player for this level. I told him, the way you are playing, you will definitely go back into the Indian team and now that you go, make sure you don't come back. He said, yes this time when I go, I will make sure I will stay there for a long time."
Still in the dawn of his career, Shaw has been through more tribulations than players ten years his senior. With a clear head, honed body, cleansed technique and that stash of Vijay Hazare runs, the IPL stage is set for him to reclaim his status as prodigy rather than problem.
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