A young debutant opener, 17 years and 320 days old, walked out to the middle for India Red against India Blue in the finals of the Duleep Trophy at Lucknow. When he walked off the ground, soaked in sweat and pride, he had 154 to his name alongside a plethora of other records.
The young Prithvi Shaw is turning heads after his staggering debut in the Duleep Trophy final. He became the youngest to score a hundred in the finals of the tournament while also joining hands with the Master Blaster, Sachin Tendulkar himself, in becoming the only two batsmen to score hundreds on their Ranji Trophy and Duleep Trophy debut.
Young Shaw was always touted for big things right from the age of eight when he switched over to Rizvi Springfield School in Bandra on scholarship to pursue a career in cricket. His father was resolute to provide as many opportunities as possible to his son and even shut down his fabric business to accompany Shaw in a 90-minute journey to school.
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. In an exclusive chat, Wood revealed his bonhomie with the outstanding youngster who is creating a hullabaloo in Mumbai cricket with his slew of dramatic performances. “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.”
It wasn’t Shaw’s first affiliation with England. He had earlier been in the country as part of an exchange programme by Cricket Beyond Boundaries and attended Cheadle Hulme School in Cheshire where he racked up runs at the rate of knots. In his time at Cheshire, Shaw made 1446 runs and picked up 68 wickets.
A year prior to that, he was grinding out runs in the Harris Shield title. As captain, he led his team to the title in 2012, smashing hundreds in the semi-finals and finals of the tournament. It was this big-match temperament that prompted Mumbai to alter their team to fit in Shaw for the Duleep Trophy final this week.
In 2013, he arrived at the Julian Wood Cricket Academy and although he struggled to cope with the bounce and swing on England pitches at first, Shaw was soon the superstar at the Academy.
“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 focused 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 reveals.
A former Hampshire cricketer who has plied his trade alongside the likes of David Gower, Malcolm Marshall and Robin Smith, Julian Wood has an eye for talent. Upon his retirement in 2006, Wood founded the Julian Wood Cricket Academy. But in all his years, he hadn’t seen a talent as wonderful as Prithvi Pankaj Shaw.
“The first time I saw him, his knowledge of his own game amazed me. He knows his game quite well, what lengths suit him, and plays to his strengths. As soon as I saw him bat, at the age of 8, I knew he was going to play International cricket. My job is to spot talent. All these years, I haven’t come across anyone like Prithvi.”
“When he came over, he played Premier League cricket on Saturdays. That was really testing for a 13 year old. The Gloucestershire second team and even the third team had real pros. To compete with them like he did was admirable. County second team cricket at the age of 13 is unheard of in England”, Wood adds.
Having known Prithvi for quite a while, Wood is very much aware of his style of batting. He believes the young opener has it in him to make it big in International cricket. The composure, tenacity and resolve he has built in his short career thus far rests firmly over ounces of talent which inevitably oozes out every now and then.
“He is a proper traditional cricketer. You look at guys like Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardena and Sachin Tendulkar retiring. He is in that mould. Among the very many T20 cricketers, Prithvi is a breath of fresh air. A 17-year old with that kind of technique is rare. We don’t get that here in England. That he is a traditional player does not affect his rate of scoring runs. He can score quickly. He is really powerful for a young guy and hits the ball cleanly, gets good value for his shots”, a proud Wood describes.
His under-19 coach in the successful Asia Cup campaign, Rahul Dravid, has only words of praise for the youngster. It was Dravid who pushed Mumbai’s selection panel chairman, Milind Rege, to hand Prithvi a Ranji Trophy debut. The youngster grabbed the opportunity with both hands smashing 120 off 175 in the second innings of his Ranji debut for Mumbai against Tamil Nadu.
His head rests firmly on his shoulders even after the big sponsorship deals that have come his way, a sign of his impeccable maturity at such a young age. He has emulated the great Sachin Tendulkar in several ways until now and remains hopeful of making it big in Indian cricket.
Wood, who is a constant visitor to Mumbai, sees glimpses of Tendulkar’s talent in the youngster. He has had a first-hand glance at several young budding cricketers in India but ascertains that Prithvi is right up there with the best he has watched. “We have a pretty good relationship with India. I think I have come over 24 times. But he is absolutely the best we have seen in the country. People talked of several other talented players. Armaan Jaffer was one. Our team played against him and he even scored a half-century. He was good, but nothing like Prithvi. He has that X-factor. It is no surprise to me that he is doing this well.”
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Although these are early days, India’s woes on greener pastures are well known and Prithvi could push his case when the team tours England a year later. Wood, for one, believes that the young Shaw could be a surprise pick for that tour. “He will play. It is a matter of time. More of a when than an if”, Wood said when asked about his chances of being picked in the national team. “If you ask me, he has pretty good chances of touring England with the Indian team in 2018. I look forward to that and probably the World Cup a year later. He definitely has chances.”
The teenager is now on the cusp of bigger achievements but remains adamant to not wander off into the glam of T20 leagues. “For now, I am not interested in playing in the IPL. I want to focus on my game and will give it a shot later. I do not plan to go for any selection camp, presently,” the young Shaw had said after being appointed skipper of the India Colts team before a five-match One-Day series in England.
That kind of maturity and thought process is rare at 17 years, an age where the riches of the IPL could entice players to give up on whites. It is this kind of disposition that makes Shaw what he is. With his twin hundreds on debut in the Ranji and Duleep Trophy, Shaw has generated a lot of buzz and is set to push the likes of Ravikumar Samarth and Priyank Panchal for a place in the India A team at the top of the order. In this age, where cricketers give up Test cricket to become globe-trotting T20 freelancers, India have managed to unearth a gem, and unsurprisingly it has come from Mumbai, the gold mine of Indian cricket.