IT CAN’T be easy being a ‘promising’ Mumbai batsman. For starters, the tag never leaves you, or at least not until you’ve actually lived up to it. And that too only when those hard-to-please Mumbai loyalists are completely satisfied. If not, it remains perpetually, turning you more and more desperate to get rid of it with each outing. Prithvi Shaw knows all about it.
‘Promising’ batsmen are spotted young in Mumbai. In Shaw’s case he has had to carry that burden from before he even turned double-figures, when he was still a diminutive, almost lilliputian, kid but already turning heads across the maidans in the city. While most members of this ilk eventually end up having to deal with that other intimidating moniker of being the “next Tendulkar”, Shaw didn’t have to wait till his teens. He was being referred to as ‘Chota Sachin’ from the time he was still barely as tall as the bat he was using.
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But when he walked out to bat at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Rajkot on Thursday morning in only his second first-class innings, he had a lot more at stake than only his reputation. After dominating proceedings for a major part of the first three days in their semifinal, Mumbai had been left with a tricky run-chase on the final day thanks to a rearguard effort by the Tamil Nadu batsmen. They still needed 246 runs to chase down and book their place in yet another Ranji final. And as far as the 17-year-old Shaw was concerned, there was also the matter of him having survived for only 5 deliveries in his first outing.
The setting was slightly different to the many other times Shaw had been in the spotlight and dealt with the challenge displaying maturity way beyond his years. Unlike the maidans though, he hadn’t quite brought the crowd on the periphery of the venue to a standstill. The stadium in Rajkot was almost completely empty. To boot, there was heavy fog in the air, which even delayed the start of play by half-hour. Not to forget that Shaw has grown a tad taller in his teens and the bat-and the helmet in particular-look more normal now on his frame.
If anything this was a chance to show his mettle and prove that he does belong at this level. That he hasn’t simply been picked on ‘promise’ alone. Shaw did all that, and went a bit further. In fact, he led the way for the multiple-time domestic champions, and starred with a memorable 120 in his debut first-class game as Mumbai sealed the run-chase comfortably to end up just one match away from their 42nd Ranji Trophy win. It was a knock which showcased a number of characteristics, ranging from his temperament to his array of delightful strokes on either side of the pitch.
Along the way, he also solved Mumbai’s long-standing issue of finding a regular opener. And at least on this evidence, it looks like they’ve found someone to hold them in good stead for years to come.
Let’s start with the temperament bit. Tamil Nadu were not going to make it easy or roll the red carpet for Shaw’s boy-to-man transformation.
Shaw had gotten out driving loosely outside his off-stump in the first innings. So understandably, the TN bowlers began their inquest to him with a number of full deliveries, trying their best to make the youngster commit the same mistake again. Shaw though wasn’t to be deterred from his quest. He kept shouldering arms, and waited for the bowlers to come to him instead. And when they did, he drove them to the fence, like he did off two consecutive deliveries from seamer Aswin Crist.
Much later in his innings though came his tryst with the fickleness of batting in cricket. On 99, he chased a wide delivery from Vijay Shankar and edged it straight to Baba Indrajith at a wide and deep gully. A distraught Shaw smashed his pad with his bat, shocked to have been denied a deserved century, thanks mainly to his own folly. But Shankar had unfortunately over-stepped ever so slightly, which meant Shaw got a golden reprieve. And the right-hander showed great fortitude to not keep his nerve and make the most of it, playing a similar shot though to a fuller ball and bringing up the century.
Now the stroke-play. Growing up, Shaw almost came across as a freakshow, considering his dramatic lack of girth. It meant that even if he was always technically very sound and was playing some exquisite shots, they always got overshadowed by the novelty surrounding him. Here against a decent TN attack, it was his repertoire of shots that stood out, especially when he was facing the spinners.
Shaw did play the sweep, the slog version more so, repeatedly to both off-spinner Baba Aparajith and left-arm spinner Aushik Srinivas with equal disdain.
While he was astute in his defence as well, Shaw didn’t waste a single opportunity where he felt confident of getting under the ball and launching it over the leg-side with a horizontal blade. He showed positive footwork too, on one occasion charging down to Aparajith and launching him over mid-wicket for six.
He did eventually fall to the sweep though by then he’d done more than what was expected of him. He’d risen beyond the promise. Post-game, Shaw dedicated his remarkable debut ton to the late Abis Rizvi, trustee of Rizvi Springfield High School, who died tragically in Turkey’s terror attack a few days ago.
Brief Scores: Tamil Nadu 305 and 356/6 lost to Mumbai 406 and 251/4 in 62.1 ovs (Prithvi Shaw 120, Shreyas Iyer 40; A Srinivas 2/73). Mumbai won by 6 wickets. Final: Mumbai vs Gujarat at Indore (January 10-14)