Mumbai and cricket have a long-standing love story. The city has churned out a plethora of young cricketers, the most prominent of them going on to represent the country a stunning 664 times. Now, 29 years since Master Blaster's debut for Mumbai in first-class cricket at the age of 15, a 17-year-old from the same region is making the country sit up and take notice.
Prithvi Shaw, 12 years younger to his senior partner Ajinkya Rahane at the other end, slammed his fourth first-class hundred in five games in the Ranji Trophy match against Odisha on Wednesday.
Shaw, who opened the innings with Akhil Herwadkar on day 1 of the Group C match in Bhubaneshwar, lost his partner by the sixth over, but had Ajinkya Rahane to guide him. However, 15 overs later, it seemed like Shaw was cutting out a path for himself. Some exquisite cut shots, a few trouble-free leg glances and a soothing loft over mid-on punctuated his 65-ball half-century.
When teams broke for lunch, Shaw was unbeaten on 73 off 109 balls, looking solid, calm and supremely confident. On a wicket where the ball seamed around a bit, Shaw negotiated swing and movement with ease. Rarely was he perturbed as he dominated the bowling attack eerily similar to the manner in which a 15-year-old Tendulkar thwarted Gujarat in 1988 on his debut.
After lunch, Shaw looked in a hurry to reach his landmark. A pristine on-drive for four set him off. Next over, he dismantled the medium pace of Deepak Behera, hoisting him for a boundary with an across-the-line swipe before showing the maker’s name with a sublime cover drive. In the third over post interval, Shaw tore into Biplab Samantray, smashing three boundaries in the over, the last of which took him past his fourth hundred in first-class cricket. He fell soon after to a ball that kept really low, but by then, he had done enough for the nation to remember his name.
That Mumbai struggled to keep the scoreboard ticking post his dismissal — they ended the day at 264/6 — is further evidence of the kind of impact he has had at the top of the order after just nine first-class innings.
A month ago, the teen sensation debuted in Duleep Trophy final for India Red against India Blue in Lucknow and composed a magnificent 154. In the process, he joined Sachin Tendulkar as one of the only two batsmen to score hundreds on their Ranji Trophy and Duleep Trophy debut.
"The more consistent I am, the better it will be for me," he had said last week after smashing 123 against Tamil Nadu, an attack that included Ravichandran Ashwin.
"There are people watching too, like the selectors, and it is important to be consistent. If you score a hundred in one game and then don't do much in the next three or four matches, then that hundred doesn't mean anything. I have learnt from many experienced players in the Mumbai team as well as the India A team how to be consistent. That helps a lot to ensure that I don't get into bad form."
4th century in 5 FC games for Prithvi Shaw and he's yet to turn 18.
Among Indians, only Tendulkar (7) had more FC 100s before age of 18.
— Bharath Seervi (@SeerviBharath) November 1, 2017
Consistency has been his mantra ever since he walked out as a six-year-old in Mumbai’s Shivaji Park with a little bat in hand. By eight, he had switched schools and decided upon a career in the sport he held close to his heart. It was around this time that Julian Wood, a former English first-class cricketer who runs the Julian Wood Cricket Academy in Bradfield, saw him for the first time.
“He was eight years old when I first saw him. We come to Mumbai often on tours, at least once a year, and as soon as I saw him, I took him under my wings. At 13, we sponsored him clothes, kit and brought him over to England for three months”, Wood said in an exclusive phone conversation.
Shaw had already been in England as part of an exchange programme, attending school in Cheshire. The Julian Wood Cricket Academy gave him better exposure to English conditions and playing the swinging ball.
“He was technically perfect. He punched the ball hard, real hard. For a guy so small statured, he packed quite a punch. When he first came over, he struggled with the extra bounce and swing on English wickets and used to get out caught behind a lot. That was one area we focussed on during his three-month stint. He could cut and pull really well but with an angled bat. We worked on getting it straighter”, Wood recalls of Shaw’s technical gameplay.
So, is he ready to be mentioned in the same breath as Shreyas Iyer, Ravikumar Samarth or Rishabh Pant?
Given his recent exploits, it wouldn't be a stretch to name his as an outside prospect for the South African tour early next year. After all, India’s openers have all struggled in South Africa and Shaw has built his game in English conditions where the ball moves around.
His under-19 coach, Rahul Dravid, is all praise for his outstanding technique, in particular, his backlift, although Dravid does state that he needs time to be a “finished product”. At 17, he has time aplenty but Shaw seems to be in a hurry to reach the Indian team. After all, youngsters like him are once-in-a-generation cricketers. Julian Wood’s words — “My job is to spot talent. All these years, I haven’t come across anyone like Prithvi” — sum up the kind of cricketer Prithvi Shaw could be if nurtured with care.