The location is the historical Shivaji Park in Mumbai; the cradle of Indian cricket that has given birth to some of the best cricketers that the nation has unearthed. Widely made famous by Sachin Tendulkar’s association with the iconic ground, where he polished his raw potential that enabled him to knock all records, Shivaji Park has a strange history with youngsters who tread on the hallowed turf day in and day out with the sole desire to stand tall in Indian colours.
Throughout the day, this ground becomes the revered spot for hundreds of young cricketers, who fill the air with ounces of their blood and sweat. Drowning the field with their hard work and toil, the ambitions they nurture remain hard to skip. A million dreams nestled yet only a few remain realised.
Prithvi Pankaj Shaw was one such talent who walked out into the dusty bowls of Shivaji Park as a six-year-old. With an uncertain future and the pressure of living up to the expectations of his father, who had wrapped up his small fabric business after his wife passed away to focus intently on his son’s cricketing aspiration, Shaw soon sailed further than the others with records and performances that left the Mumbai cricketing circle spell-bound.
The school boy with feats unmatched
Having gained admission in Rizvi Springfield through a sports quota, it was but imperative that Shaw would spend most of his school heydays in the back lawns and the cricket ground. He was picked to captain his school in the reputed Harris Shield title, widely regarded as the most prestigious cricket tournament for the youth in India. Not only did he lead his side to the title in 2012 but he also smashed scores of 155 and 174 in the semi-finals and final respectively, which only heightened his reputation even more.
Being spotted as a player of acute talent by the Cricket Beyond Boundaries, a global sports exchange programme that sends promising players to train abroad, helped Shaw attend the Cheadle Hulme School in Chesire the same year, where he pitched in with an impressive all-round performance, picking up 68 wickets and scoring 1446 runs, including a hundred on debut.
Julian Wood, an English cricketer who runs the Julian Wood Cricket Academy remained widely pleased with Shaw’s technique and the next year sponsored him a stint with his academy. In an exclusive chat, he reveals the reasons for being impressed by the highly gifted youngster.
“He is technically perfect. Despite not being a tall player, he punches the ball really well. He could cut and pull really well and his knowledge of the game at just eight years of age really amazed me.”
Shaw lived up to Wood’s excitement expectations and returned to India after having learnt to tackle the extra bounce and swing that the English conditions had to offer. The same year, he thrashed all records with a score of 546 from 330 deliveries in the Harris Shield match, which was the third highest registered score by any batsman in all levels since 1901.
A tough competition follows
Fast forward to 2017. As the selection panel in Mumbai’s cricketing circuit met to finalise the team that would play Tamil Nadu in the semi-finals of the Ranji Trophy, they were drawn in a conundrum. On one hand, the chairman of selectors Milind Rege was tempted to field the same squad that had survived the quarter-final, and on the other, the urge to pick Shaw and thrust him into the realm of challenges spewed his system.
After a lengthy conversation with India’s U-19 coach Rahul Dravid, in which the former captain effusively praised his back-lift and calmness, which were on full display during Shaw’s tenure with the successful U-19 Indian team that won the Asia Cup, the 17-yea- old made his entry into the Ranji arena with a golden opportunity to prove his mettle in the toughest challenge yet.
A shaky start in the first innings was quickly dealt with in the second as the opener ripped apart the Tamil Nadu bowling attack by scoring a century on his First-Class debut, a knock of 120 in 175 deliveries that was defined by attacking strokes and restrained aggression.
Later, whilst playing for the India U-19s, he scored a hundred against England. By notching up 154 in his Duleep Trophy debut a few days ago, Shaw’s name seems well on course to be taken in the same breath as Mumbai’s Shreyas Iyer and Delhi’s Rishabh Pant, both domestic cricket heroes in their own rights.
Whilst Iyer had a blazing start to his domestic career in 2014, in which he scored 809 runs at an average of 50.56, bettering it the very next year to finish as the top run-scorer in the league, Pant came into the limelight in 2016 with a triple century that ensured he was the fourth highest run-getter of the season.
Together, the duo has stamped their authority as prodigies that remain engulfed in consistency even in the most trying situations. Pant, at the age of 19, in particular earmarked his name as a champion player after his hard-fought half century in the Indian Premier League just hours after he had cremated his father. In his determined world of solitude, Pant remained aloof from the hullabaloo that surrounded his knock then.
After his mother passed away when he was just four, Shaw too had pledged to script deeds that would make her proud. He certainly has miles to go before he can match up to the achievements that the others continue to write. But, as his coach Raju Pathak states, his student is well aware of his shortcomings and refuses to be unnecessarily elated with the sponsorship of Rs 36 lakh by the equipment manufacturing brand SG that came his way after his continued impressive performances.
The teenager, who now has graduated from the by-lanes of Shivaji Park to the lush green fields of the Wankhede Stadium, still remains as dreamy-eyed as ever before with the visions of the Indian jersey pushing him towards further goals and accomplishments. In his refusal to ape Tendulkar and in his yearning to carve his own niche as the first Shaw of Indian cricket instead, the youngster has given adequate glimpses of his mettle, self-belief and passion, which remain wrapped around tonnes of talent.