At one corner of the dusty Wayle Nagar ground in Kalyan in Mumbai on Tuesday, a schoolboy cricketer decided to have some fun. Commentators usually reel off a string of idioms to describe a batsman in full flow – “toying with the bowlers” is one of them. But it’s safe to assume that the innings played by 15-year old Pranav Dhanawade from Smt KC Gandhi School was beyond description.
In fact, there is actually no term in cricket to describe his final score. Batsmen routinely score centuries, double centuries and triple centuries. The great Brian Lara even scored an unbeaten quintuple century (501). But which term can aptly describe Dhanawade’s 1,009 not out? A grand century? The big ton? The jury is still out.
His feat was one of those rare positive stories that stood out and was readily lapped up. And why not? It was a heart-warming story. Here was the son of an autorickshaw driver, who had abandoned his own cricketing dreams to see his child flourish. The adolescent protagonist appeared slightly bewildered by his achievements. And then there was the proud coach who posed next to his ward with a beaming smile.
When the dust settled, however, a few questions were raised. Some critics quite rightly pointed to the standard of the opposition – an Under-14 team hastily assembled by Arya Gurukul School, whose usual personnel were busy preparing for their Class 10 board exams. As legends Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar sent their congratulations to Dhanawade, others pointed to a portion of a speech Rahul Dravid had delivered last month during the Pataudi Memorial lecture.
Dravid had suggested that it was not a good precedent for schoolkids to notch up huge scores as it would deprive his teammates from batting on that particular day. He advocated a system where batsmen would retire after a certain score and come back to bat again. A Sportskeeda article went one step further and accused the coach of Dhanawade’s team of “unsportsmanlike behaviour”. It argued that there was no need for the coach to let the team bat on for so long and they should have declared after taking a 400-500 run lead.
Mumbai has produced its fair share of its schoolboy wonders, starting with that record-breaking 664-run partnership between Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli three decades ago. Recently, however, the mammoth scores appear to have become a routine affair. While 12-year old Sarfaraz Khan scored a then record 439 in 2009, 14-year old Prithvi Shaw piled up 546 in 2013. And just recently, 17-year old Arman Jaffer hit three consecutive double centuries in the U-19 Cooch Behar Trophy.
Obsessed with records
In light of Dhanawade’s achievement, one piece of information is particularly enlightening. A report in The Indian Express noted that before Dhanawade’s big day, his coach had advised him, “If you want to play at the Wankhede Stadium, you will need to score big. Fifties, sixties or even a hundred or two will not make a big impact.”
This tells us that it wasn’t really fair to blame the coach for unsportsmanlike behaviour. In fact, he did what was best for his ward because he probably assumed that like Shaw and Jaffer before him, once Dhanawade broke a world record, he would immediately become a known face. And it worked – Dhanawade is now a worldwide phenomenon, with even the international media taking note of his exploits.
It also confirms that we are increasingly becoming a nation besotted with individual feats and records. Individual feats of great magnitude are celebrated without much care and concern for the bigger picture. In Dhanawade’s case, his unbeaten 1,009 will go down in the record books as a momentous achievement. But in many ways, the bar for other aspiring young cricketers has been raised sky high. Therefore, the only way to get noticed is not by putting your head down and playing consistently, but to achieve some rare feat that is spectacularly out of the ordinary. The struggle is even more difficult if you are bowler.
Congratulations Pranav and all the best for what should hopefully be a very sparkling career. But in the interest of cricket and all other team sports, perhaps it is best if we as a nation woke up to the importance of the collective as well.