Prodigies can often leave you with polemically extreme feelings. Like Mumbai’s latest teenage sensation, Prithvi Shaw left one with. For exactly 34 balls and 68 minutes, he thrilled you with the sheer daring and audacity of his stokeplay. But in a blurry second, off the 35th ball he faced and the 69th minute he was at the crease, he left you with an unfulfilled gasp, like a meteor leaving its luminous trail.
First the Prithvi that scintillated you. The third ball he faced, he lofted Rush Kalaria over cover for a brace. A stroke that blared his intentions, and a blatant flouting of textbook conventions. The next ball, he jumps out of the crease and defends Kalaria.
The latter, himself only 23, throws a wicked growl. Prithvi doesn’t care. The next ball, he crunches past the bowler to pick his first boundary. A red-faced Kalaria pings in the effort ball. Prithvi slashes wildly, to use a Shastri-ism, “slashes and slashes hard.” He is beaten, though. Kalaria throws in another wild growl, like the shadow punches of professional boxers before they unleash the full-blooded, nose-shattering punch.
Shaw’s repartees were anything but violent. He just guides a wide ball past deep-point for a boundary. Such was the timing that the boundary fielder remained static at his post. Ruffled, Kalaria, hurtled the ball with all his pace, like a boxer shaken by his punches swishing the thin air. It was the fastest he had bowled in the entire match, but Prithvi just leaned into the shot, coaxing the ball through cover. Kalaria stood blank, his mind perhaps pinning from inside.
While in the maidans and school cricket, Shaw’s blitz must not have sent seismic waves of shock — after all it took him only 330 balls to peel off 546 runs in a school game — reproducing a similar intent in first-class cricket is an altogether different aspect. The setting is different, the situation is different, the stakes are different. Enough for most 17-year-olds to flinch. Here he was playing only his second first-class fixture, in the final of Ranji Trophy, with his side trailing by 100 runs.
Even if you weave in the bowler’s mettle— Kalaria is not the quickest or the craftiest new-ball predator around — or weigh in the benevolence of the wicket, to come out and unfurl such strokes is not routine, but a reflection of his incredible potential and supreme self-assurance.
It wasn’t a team strategy either, persuading him to make a few quick runs, because there was ample time left in the match for Mumbai to wipe off the arrears and build on the lead. Even if they dallied with such methods, they wouldn’t have thrusted it on someone as callow as Shaw. There was Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav or Siddhesh Lad, if they had chosen thus.
Meanwhile, Shaw didn’t stop with taking Kalaria out of the attack. RP Singh was nonchalantly flicked through midwicket. The ball was tailing in, but was pitched a few yards outside the off-stump. But Shaw just covered the line and wristed it.
It was Chintan Gaja’s turn to be slaughtered next. He was welcomed with a couple of boundaries at the diagonal ends of the ground. First was a flick that fleeced through to the mid-wicket fence, then a deft brush-stroke past third-man. And he just twinkled down the ground and simply twitched a delivery through mid-wicket. He steamed along to 44 off 33 deliveries.
Then, with a poignant reminder of youthful insouciance, he departed. Perhaps, the tempo he had kicked up was too delirious to be modulated. Perhaps he was just overawed. Perhaps, he was just smug. An attempted drive through covers—his hands hard and front foot frozen — off Gaja took his edge to the keeper. Prithvi walked back, shaking his head. A few more overs, and lunch was called.
Maybe, he could have been a touch more defensive towards the end. So felt Shreyas Iyer. But he gives Shaw the allowance of youth. “The shot he played wasn’t that good, but you can forgive him. He’s that kind of a player.”
Then he put his younger peer’s performance in perspective: “It’s really nice for the team, suddenly we get a good start, which we were not getting in the previous matches. Then this boy coming in, young and fearless – it was amazing to watch.”
From the context of the match, his whirlwind knock struck out 44 runs from the deficit in no time, derailed Gujarat’s plans prompting their bowlers to alter their lines. More significantly, it gripped them with a fear of failure, inflicting the same sense of trauma as several of Virender Sehwag’s cameos. And leaving the spectators with the same gasp of disappointment, and a hunch that here was something special unfolding.