Prithvi Shaw is still. There is a secret mantra running through his head. Perhaps it’s his concoction of self-belief. Perhaps it’s something that Pravin Amre planted there.
Prithvi Shaw is still. It’s the last ball of the eighth over from Jadeja. A widish delivery that Shaw leaves alone. It’s not called a wide though. Shaw sets his stare at the umpire. The camera zooms into the batsman’s stare. It’s steely, ripping right through the umpire. Shaw remains still.
A few months back, Shaw was far from still. There was no secret mantra running through his head. Instead, there was a concoction of self-doubt. It was IPL 2020 in the Middle East. It was before Amre’s counsel. It was before he had turned 21.
Before this though, Shaw had already built a reputation as a prodigy. Through school cricket, Under-19, Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy, India A, Delhi Daredevils, Shaw had earned his stripes. He had earned a Test debut. And like Amre before him, he scored a century on debut.
At 18 years 329 days, Shaw became India’s youngest Test centurion on debut. The only younger Indian to score a century was Sachin Tendulkar. In 2018, when you are being compared to Tendulkar, it’s often with the heft of the man’s 200 Tests and accomplishments spanning decades.
Prithvi Shaw had played four Tests before Adelaide’s 36 all out. He was deemed good enough to be picked for the first Test of the series. He wasn’t good enough for the rest of the series.
By now, Shaw’s return to India, seeking Amre out and working on his game have been well documented. As have his 827 runs that led Mumbai to win the Vijay Hazare Trophy. A tournament where he did not get bowled even once.
Before this, Prithvi Shaw’s dismissals through the gate had become a talking point. From the IPL right up to the Pink Ball Test in Adelaide. The gap between his bat and pad, his half stride forward, had made experts out of Shaw’s many critics. There was such predictability to it, his Delhi Capitals’ coach, Ricky Ponting called it on air in the Adelaide Test.
Before the start of the IPL’s 14th edition, Ponting had spoken about Shaw’s unwillingness to correct batting flaws in the nets: “He had an interesting theory on his batting last year – when he's not scoring runs, he won't bat, and when he is scoring runs, he wants to keep batting all the time.”
January 19, 2021, Brisbane: Prithvi Shaw has been on the bench for three Tests, he cannot remain still any more. Rishabh Pant has scaled the Gabba fortress, barely has the win registered, somehow, in the middle with him is an overtly effervescent Shaw.
While Pant started his IPL career with Delhi in 2016, Shaw began his with the franchise in 2018. Both are high impact T20 players with IPL strike rates of 152 and 143. With such high impact comes high risk. The IPL has far too many Indian batsmen with strike rates less than 130.
Pant and Shaw’s teammate, Ajinkya Rahane, has an IPL strike rate of 121. Shaw’s opening partner, Shikhar Dhawan, whose IPL career is on the up since 2020, strikes at 127 across seasons.
In Pant and Shaw’s batting is something of a wild rocker’s approach: live fast, die young. That is the wild side of T20. It is what separates the format from ODIs; what makes it so impetuous yet so compelling. By stifling players such as Shaw and Pant we will be in denial of the format.
In recent times, Pant and Shaw have been India’s most scrutinized cricketers. Over the last year, this has often meant being whimsically picked and dropped across formats. Pant has even been berated by the team management publically. Somehow it seems to have worked with him. Social media has been particularly rough on both players, as if the two were responsible for the ills of last year.
April 10, 2021: Prithvi Shaw is ripping it on the boundary. He has chased down the ball. Isn’t that what fielders do? Not if you are Prithvi Shaw who had a horror run on the field in IPL 13. Misfields, dropped catches, nothing was sticking to Shaw. Just criticism.
While Dubai’s untraditional ring-of-fire lighting, in addition to the dew, sweaty palms, lack of practice for months was held responsible for some simple dropped catches by Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja amongst others; the storyline was different when it came to Shaw’s slipups.
Both he and Pant were called out across media for their fitness.
Pravin Amre cannot sit still. He’s in the Delhi Capitals’ dugout. His boy, Prithvi Shaw, is in the middle. Amre is beaming and speaking to everyone and anyone around. He has the joy of a gregarious uncle who told you so: “see, see, you see that…yes, we worked on that too…and that”.
In the middle, Shaw is still. His blade moves. Knifing through the air, on to the ball, through the gap. Ball after ball. Shaw dissects two fielders at backward point and a flying slip, down to the third man boundary.
Shaw’s rapid bat speed enthrals Sunil Gavaskar in the commentary box. Elsewhere there will be comparisons with Virender Sehwag. Talk of his fast hands, relentless hitting, piercing of gaps.
As a viewer, one must be still. Else we will miss Shaw’s whizzing blade.
Aside: Prithvi Shaw and Pravin Amre both have one Test century (both scored on debut) with almost identical Test batting averages of 42.37 and 42.5
Gaurav Sethi founded BoredCricketCrazyIndians.com He tweets @BoredCricket