Prithvi Shaw’s redemption lies in following the Sachin Tendulkar way
Ever since the emergence of a child prodigy named Sachin Tendulkar, the Mumbai cricket fraternity takes the rapid rise of its young players seriously, and often shows up at the ground to check for themselves.
Amol Muzumdar, Wasim Jaffer, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane rose with much the same pomp, as have the latest set of Sarfaraz Khan, Armaan Jaffer and Prithvi Shaw. The extra oomph that made Tendulkar what he was has been missing in all of them, but the word from the maidans is that Shaw—in his latest, post-suspension avatar—has got people talking all over again.
It was not the number of runs, but the manner in which they were scored that captivated Tendulkar’s audiences. When his bat struck leather, the sound was music to the ears.
A similar note has been echoing around the stands when Shaw has been on strike in this domestic season.
His drives through covers have been a sight to behold as he meets the ball with the famous forward push as Tendulkar. And, most of all, it’s the Tendulkaresque wristplay that makes Shaw look almost as explosive as the original master.
With a 202 off 179 balls in his first Ranji game of the season against Baroda and a 150 off 100 balls for India A in New Zealand (where he will also be in the ODI squad), the stage is set for his return to international cricket. And should he play, much is expected of him.
“Prithvi is a player who can be a great entertainer, I don’t think he will change and continue to be an entertainer,” says former India wicketkeeper Kiran More.“It’s a great selection. He was part of the team (in Tests) and did very well before he got injured.
“I can see comparisons to Tendulkar (because) when Tendulkar came into the Indian team, he was very aggressive, very calculative and adapted to the situation,” adds More, who was on Tendulkar’s first-ever international tour to Pakistan in 1989.
Unlike Tendulkar, however, it’s not been all smooth sailing for Shaw, despite the obvious potential. A question mark hangs over his ability to transform possibility into reality after his injuries and his suspension for failing a dope test.
Tendulkar had a brilliant cricketing brain to go with his skill and talent. His success was not just about his game, but also the ability to react to the opposition’s gameplan, map the bowler, and adapt to the conditions and situations. As of now, Shaw is yet to be put to the test at the highest level.
Against Railways at the Wankhede Stadium this season, after Mumbai had conceded a huge first innings lead, Shaw was having it easy on a lively track. He started with a flurry of delightful strokes.
Then the Railway bowlers, coached by former India pacer Harvinder Singh, pulled their lengths back. Shaw, however, continued in the same attacking mode, and holed out to the mid-off fielder.
It was a poor shot given the situation his team was in. Tendulkar would have curbed his ego and played out that spell (like he did against Dale Steyn in Cape Town en route to his final Test century), before looking to dominate again.
But that is Shaw’s way. He got off to a flyer in Test cricket, cracking a debut hundred against the West Indies and following it up with a 40 in the second and, thus far, final Test.
He would have been tested in the series in Australia–Nathan Lyon would have checked every aspect of his game, while Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc world have checked his courage—but Shaw came up injured before the first Test even began.
“Prithvi is an outstanding batting talent,” says More. “That double-hundred against Baroda was on a turning track, which was not easy to bat on. He absolutely smashed everyone around. He has something special. But he also has to work hard like everyone, and maintain discipline and focus.”
Discipline and focus. They aren’t Shaw’s allies yet, as they were for Tendulkar. For the highest run-getter in both ODIs and Test cricket, batting was the ultimate high. Tendulkar’s teammates have told stories of waking up in the dead of the night only to find him shadow practicing.
The same cannot be said of Shaw as yet. He is just 20-years-old and is known to relish the good life beyond the cricket field. While that’s natural, it’s also seen as a danger sign; just ask the former coaching staff of Manchester United during the George Best days. It’s the same worry that the Mumbai cricket fraternity is currently dealing with.
In the three Ranji matches Shaw played this season, he put on display all three sides of his temperament. The brilliance against Baroda underlined by a double hundred in the second innings, the impetuousness against Railways which cost Mumbai the match and the sheer disinterest in the team’s cause against Karnataka, when he put himself over the team’s needs by packing off in the middle of the game after suffering a shoulder injury.
A unanimous voice consisting of Shaw’s Mumbai teammates, selectors and former players believed he should have battled the pain and stayed back to help a team that was in a dire situation.
Shaw is now all set to start his limited-overs career in the same country where Tendulkar turned into a one-day phenomenon in 1994, after opening the innings for the first time. He needs to find the same excitement for new challenges that a man of similar age did all those years ago.