Prithvi Shaw: the biggest victim of selectors' recency bias

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01 Jan 2022 | 04:53 AM
authorAnirudh Suresh

Prithvi Shaw: the biggest victim of selectors' recency bias

The omission of Shaw and Padikkal, and the alienation of Agarwal, is indicative of a flawed selection process

You don’t want to be Prithvi Shaw right now. Really, you don’t. Wondering why? Let’s do a small run-through, shall we?

The year is 2021 and you’ve just headed back to India after a nightmare of a tour Down Under (personally) in which you got bowled twice and averaged 2.00, prompting the entire world to make fun of you. The Vijay Hazare Trophy is starting in under a month so you’re keen to make amends and prove yourself to the same people who mocked you. You’re desperate to not just win fans over, but to make a statement. 

And you do that. In emphatic fashion.

8 innings. 827 runs. Two double-hundreds. An average of 165.40 and a strike rate of 138.29. The single greatest, most impactful domestic season in history. The kind of season that might not be eclipsed in a hundred years.

You’ve earned the respect, with the world now acknowledging you as a white-ball demon, and the stellar campaign has earned you a spot in the three-match ODI series against Sri Lanka.

In Sri Lanka, you pick up from right where you left and you win the Man of the Match award in the very first game for a 24-ball 43. You fail in the second ODI but then again you top score for the side in the third game, striking 49 runs at an SR of 100.00.

You are then pulled from the following Vijay Hazare season to represent India ‘A’ in three red-ball matches in South Africa, but with the three-match ODI series approaching, you are mighty confident that you will find a place in the squad, at the very least as a batting reserve.

But BOOOM, the squad is out and……..your name is missing. No really, it’s missing. 

A record-breaking season followed by a MOTM performance and a top-score, but you’ve been DROPPED. Dropped even though the team is missing a premier opener. Dropped to accommodate a 36-year-old veteran who averaged 11 in the season, and another red-hot young opener whose hottest streak couldn’t match your tally from the previous season.

Now think: do you really want to be Prithvi Shaw?

***

In all fairness, Ruturaj Gaikwad totally deserved the call-up to the ODI squad. To leave him out after what he did in the 2021/22 Vijay Hazare season - 4 hundreds in 5 innings; 603 runs - would have been a farce. Needless to mention, that campaign came on the back of an Orange Cap season in IPL 2021. From his end, Gaikwad couldn’t have done more. He rightly finds himself on the plane to South Africa.

But equally, there is simply no justification for leaving Shaw out. You always want to strike the iron when it's hot so one can understand the reasoning behind Gaikwad’s inclusion. But Shaw did no wrong and should have found himself sitting on that plane next to Gaikwad. 

Even if the selectors felt that Dhawan walked into the squad because of seniority, and Gaikwad owing to his unignorable form, there was no reason why they could not have carried Shaw as a part of the extended squad, particularly during these COVID times for an away tour.  

India, of all teams, know the value of carrying an extended squad: the last time they played a limited-overs series away from home, they were put in a position where they had to field the last 11 members who were fit. So bad was the Covid mess that in the final game of the Sri Lanka tour, Bhuvneshwar Kumar had to bat at No.6.

Recency bias, it can be said then, is what has cost Shaw his place in the ODI squad. His fault was that he did not play in the 2021/22 Vijay Hazare Trophy season. The 850 runs and the double-tons he scored at the start of the year, the Man of the Match showing against Sri Lanka, all became irrelevant in the eyes of the selectors because he did not play 50-over cricket in lead-up to the selection. 

And it’s a big irony because it was the selection committee that stopped him from playing in the Vijay Hazare Trophy by picking him for red-ball matches in the ‘A’ tour.

The pecking-order problem that needs to be addressed

With the openers at least, Indian cricket clearly seems to have a pecking order problem. Because yes, Prithvi Shaw is not the only victim of recency bias. He is far from the only player whose sustained domestic excellence has meant nothing. 

Spare a thought for Devdutt Padikkal, who in his List A career averages 77.27 and had back-to-back 600-run seasons in the Vijay Hazare Trophy (737 in the 2020/21 season, the second highest tally in the competition’s history). 

He, too, like Shaw, was in South Africa playing red-ball games for India ‘A’, meaning he got to play only two Vijay Hazare matches. He too will be watching the ODI matches from home. 

What about Mayank Agarwal, then? Since 2018, for Karnataka, Agarwal averages 73.64 with a strike rate of nearly 110. And yet he is not in the picture at all, despite also having proven himself in the IPL. He was given a couple of games in Australia - in which, chasing 370+ targets, he got the team off to a flyer - after which he was chucked out. Mayank has since been completely frozen out of the ODI setup.

While it is true that India has a problem of plenty when it comes to top-order batters in limited-overs cricket, it should be the selectors’ job to ensure that the pecking order that’s prepared takes into consideration a multitude of factors, not just recent form. The omission of Shaw - and to an extent Padikkal - from the South Africa ODIs suggests that the current process is flawed. 

One can only hope that the unfairly left-out players were at least communicated properly. 

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India tour of South Africa, 2021/22IndiaPrithvi ShawDevdutt PadikkalRuturaj GaikwadMayank AgarwalShikhar Dhawan

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