There's a clip from one of India's 24x7 news channels from a few years ago that stands out in memory. Short on footage about the previously unheard of wunderkind from Mumbai, they put together an infinite loop of one of Prithvi Shaw's cover drives, followed by a shadow practice routine of the same shot. This played endlessly on TV screens, as one anchor after another, went about making the most obvious teenage cricket comparison, in the week when Sachin Tendulkar retired.
About four days after Sachin signed off at the Wankhede Stadium, Shaw was making history of his own, with 546 runs in the Harris Shield for senior schoolboys. Monumental knocks of this sort are common in the maidans of Mumbai, but Shaw's achievement outscored and bookended a record-breaking series of similar scores by three of the city's most watched prodigies, all part of the same school – Rizvi Springfield.
Sarfaraz Khan, Armaan Jaffer and Prithvi Shaw are all talked of in much the same breath even today, when it comes to what the future holds for them. "Has it been frustrating to live in the shadow of the other two?" and "How do you feel about being compared with Sachin Tendulkar?" were a couple of the questions posed to Shaw after his knock in 2013.
In the same week, he was appointed captain of the Mumbai Under-16 team, which incidentally included both his seniors, with whom he shares an "extremely healthy relationship". Sarfaraz, Armaan and now Shaw, have all gone on to represent India at the Under-19 level.
First-class cricket is a whole different beast though. Armaan has played three games for Mumbai so far, accumulating just 44 runs at 7.33, while Sarfaraz has since shifted back to his home state of Uttar Pradesh, where he has had mixed fortunes. “Days cricket”, as they say in these parts, goes far beyond school boy contemporaries, exposing you against a smorgasbord of cricketing talent, in a range of conditions.
Shaw’s innings, set against that context, on debut in a Ranji semi-final, was special, and deserves all the plaudits for the composure, technical correctness and, at times, its authority. Against a Tamil Nadu seam trio who have accounted for over 85 wickets this season, Shaw’s innings blunted its teeth, waited for the loose balls and indiscipline to set in, and punished them with shots across the ground when the time was right. That cover drive from news channels in 2013, a facsimile of it anyway, was on view against K Vignesh’s teasing fourth stump deliveries. The contrast was even starker when viewed against 32-year-old Praful Waghela’s early morning struggles with inside edges and nurdles.
When the spinners came on, the sweep was out in full force, bat fully over the ball, and authority written all over that footwork. A little bit of air, and there was that dance down the track, left leg up to get that LBW out of the way. Aushik Srinivas, who was bowling with a lot of discipline from both sides of the wicket, was treated to the Prithvi show for the better part of the afternoon.
At one point, when a negative, leg-stump line at Shaw’s pads was becoming the norm, he stepped out, made room and swiped it over mid-wicket. It was peak teenage swagger, displayed with scant regard for the occasion.
“Paravaalla, paravaalla, Au-shee” (it’s alright, Aushik), came Dinesh Karthik’s voice from behind the stumps. Shaw’s range of shots, and patience, though, outshone every bowler who Tamil Nadu could throw at him on the day.
What, then, does all this mean? A 17-year old steps in from the Under-19 level, walks into his Ranji side, and scores a hundred. It has been 23 years since a Mumbai batsman scored a debut hundred, as commentator and said Mumbai batsman, Amol Muzumdar, informed Shaw while interviewing him. The hundred also makes him the second youngest first-class centurion for Mumbai after, hush hush, you-know-who.
If nothing else, this is a testament of Mumbai cricket’s place as a special outlier among India’s cricketing circles. Teenage prodigies are belted out from the school cricket production line with a frequency that only alarms the rest of the country. Kids post mammoth individual scores in tournaments that are covered extensively by local media. Not a day goes by without someone talking about the khadoos spirit that defines the sport in the city.
A 17-year-old with a single parent, who is his family’s primary bread-winner today, having travelled over 60 km to get to practice for years together. While the story is touching in many ways, and will be lapped up if Shaw has begun as he means to go on, it goes some way to explain Mumbai’s 41 Ranji titles and their barely believable consistency in this format. Unafraid of risks and punts, throwing kids into the deep sea, making them learn on the job, and when success comes, ensuring the machinery is in place to repeat it.
As Shaw took off his helmet, he spent a good five seconds kissing the Mumbai Cricket Association badge on his jersey, and after the game, spoke about how “when you have the lion on your chest, you are inspired by positive thoughts”. It’s quite some line coming from a 17-year-old debutant, and only showcases the broad daylight that separates Mumbai and the rest of India’s cricket sides.
Updated Date: Jan 06, 2017 10:34 AM