Indian cricket has always provided stories of great intrigue to the fans. Some of the characters involved and their exploits on the field have only made the game richer.
As India host West Indies their first home series of the season, a couple of new names will stand a chance to be counted among players, who through their hard-work and perseverance have left an indelible mark on the sport. May be one of these newcomers might just take international cricket by storm. If the buzz in the cricketing circles is to be believed Prithvi Shaw, picked in the 15-member squad for the two-Test West Indies series, could well take up the mantle.
After being named in India’s squad for the fourth and fifth Test against England, it was clear Prithvi figured in the bigger scheme of things for the Indian selectors. While he did not get a game there, the move to drop Shikhar Dhawan for the West Indies Tests has cleared the decks for the 18-year-old to begin his India career in earnestness.
“Prithvi is a talented player but he’s got a long way to go. He has got lot to learn... He will get opportunities, He is going to have some ups and downs,” India U-19 and ‘A’ coach Rahul Dravid had said in February 2017.
There haven’t been many downs, but there have been plenty of ups for the youngster since then. It is still unclear whether Prithvi will make his debut ahead of fellow newcomer Mayank Agarwal or remain on the sidelines for some more time but his former coaches believe the youngster is ready for cricket at the highest level.
“Mentally, Prithvi operates at a different level. Pressure isn’t a factor at most times. He is quite adept at breaking down match situations without panicking. He is fearless,” said former Mumbai Ranji coach Sameer Dighe.
“At the international level, one needs to be fearless. If one can have that attitude at 18 and have talent, then it is clear you’re meant to be playing on the biggest stage,” he added.
It was under the tutelage of Dighe that Prithvi truly came into his own during the last domestic season. He notched up four centuries in five first-class games.
He had first burst into the scene after setting a record in the prestigious Harris Shield school cricket tournament in Mumbai. The then 14-year-old had scored a remarkable 546 off 330 balls while playing for Rizvi Springfield School.
Since then, the Mumbai lad has developed at a rapid pace, adjusting his game to the requirements of the time. According to Vinod Raghavan, Mumbai’s former U-19 coach, Prithvi has combined raw talent with timely adjustments to his game.
“In the last few years, Prithvi has adopted a fresh approach to his game. From fitness to shot selection, there is far more maturity in the way he plays,” said Raghavan who was in charge of the Mumbai youth team when Prithvi began his stint in age-group cricket.
“Initially, there was an issue with his temperament. He would throw away his wicket. But, he has learned from his mistakes. He was always a fast learner.
“It has been heartening to seem him notching up records at the senior level despite his young age,” he added.
Since his Harris Shield heroics, Prithvi has steadily moved up the ladder. He was the captain of India’s victorious under-19 World Cup winning team. In recent months, the youngster has been impressive with his consistent show for the India ‘A’ side as well.
According to Raju Pathak, Prithvi’s childhood coach, the opportunity to play under stalwarts, including Dravid at the “right time” has helped improve his game exponentially.
“Not everyone can make the transition from school cricket to Ranji that easily. Only a handful have made the jump to international cricket in their teenage years. I feel a chance to play under senior coaches and players has helped him mature as a player,” says Pathak.
“He needed the right technical inputs at the right time. In school days he was raw, but got the runs. As he began playing age-group cricket, he quickly made adjustments to his game. That technical shift is imperative and he was fortunate to find it early.
“The same happened when he was picked in the Ranji outfit. At the U-19 level, he was training under Dravid. A talented player like him can do wonders with the correct inputs at the right time, and he was lucky to have found that as he took the progressive steps,” added Pathak.
Focus on fitness
The transition hasn’t been easy. Prithvi has worked hard on his fitness and has made great strides to improve his fielding, reckons Raghavan.
“A few years back, all he would care for was batting. Fitness and fielding was hardly a priority. He has been quick to make understand that these were shortfalls and has improved on both fronts,” Raghavan said.
“There is still a long way to go. But, with the right attitude Prithvi can go all the way to the top,” he added.
The challenge in front of the youngster is now to make a great first impression on the biggest stage. Nothing tests the true ability of a batsman like Test cricket. Opening the innings as the team goes through a mini-transition, the task will be cut out for him. Dighe, though, feels the youngster has the mental fortitude to handle the pressures of international cricket.
“The changes in the opening slot will provide Prithvi breathing space to get a hang of international cricket. The West Indies series will tell us how much he has progressed in this past year. It will give us a fair idea of how he fairs on the tour Down Under.
“These are exciting times for the youngster and for fans who will have a chance to see a talented batsman on the biggest stage so early in his career.
“The competition for a place in the Indian team has always been cut-throat, especially in the last few years. Prithvi, through his talent and performances has earned his place. Now, he has to deliver on the trust shown by the selectors. If his track record is anything to go by, he won’t disappoint,” Dighe added.