IT’S TOO early to anoint Prithvi Shaw as the next Sachin Tendulkar. But on Thursday, when he slammed a sparkling Test debut hundred against the West Indies in Rajkot, all the hype surrounding the next big Mumbai batsman seemed justified. The back-foot punches, the horizontal cut shots, the short body balanced on the toes, the impassive face almost invisible under a big helmet — it was almost a rewind to the late 1980s when India fell in love with another Mumbai boy.
Just like Tendulkar, Shaw, 18, has been facing one question since his school days: “Tu bada run kab marega (When will you score big)?” His contemporaries Armaan Jaffer and Sarfraz Khan — two other maidan teenagers with the Tendulkar-Kambli kind of success in school cricket — had created terror among bowlers, and all eyes were on Shaw to replicate those feats.
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Five years ago, Shaw scored a record 546 in an inter-school Harris Shield match to dwarf everyone else. “After that 500, the pressure was off me and everyone went silent, but I knew the real journey had just begun,” Shaw told The Indian Express. Ten years ago, when The Indian Express traced Shaw’s daily Virar-Churchgate-Virar journey — he would get up at 4.30 am and spend close to four hours on local trains — he had spoken about his heroes Tendulkar and M S Dhoni. With a shy smile, he had also said that he admired Sunil Gavaskar and Mohammed Azharuddin for their “great technique”.
A decade later, there he was, opening for India in Tests like Gavaskar, and scoring a debut hundred like Azharuddin. But then, Shaw has always made an early impact on the big stage. An U-19 World Cup winning captain, he has scored centuries on his Ranji and Duleep Trophy debuts. On Thursday, he walked into the Test arena as if he was playing just another maidan game. He reached his 100 in 99 balls to be the youngest debutant centurion in Tests for India and finished at 134 with a strike rate of over 85.
Over the years, the world has seen two types of Mumbai batsmen. The first lot was all about the famed Mumbai “khadoosness”, with their dogged approach. The second lot liked to indulge themselves. Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Vijay Manjrekar, and briefly his son Sanjay, were from the first stable. Sachin Tendulkar, Vinod Kambli and even Ajit Wadekar to an extent came from the second.
Former India and Mumbai batsman Sandeep Patil explains the divide in his own inimitable way. “The two were divided by the Tilak Nagar bridge that separated Matunga from Shivaji Park. Those on the side of Matunga were the attackers. Those from the other side were khadoos. Shaw is from Virar in outer Mumbai but it’s clear which side he comes from. Moreover, he comes from the fearless T20 generation and is a special player,” Patil said.
There have been instances when Shaw has been told to change his technique, in particular the batting grip and stance, but he hasn’t — especially after a meeting with Tendulkar who told him to stick to his natural game. It’s not all been smooth sailing, though, for the teenager. In the 2015-16 season, he wasn’t picked in the Mumbai U-19 team for the Vinoo Mankad Trophy, the first time he was dropped from the junior team. But then, he responded with a flood of runs.
Sidak Singh, who has played with Prithvi for Mumbai and in school cricket, sums up that attitude. “Prithvi scored three hundreds in three selection games. Since then, just see his scorecard… he has one big knock in each tournament. He is a guy who will fail in five innings but make it count in the next four. Banda alag hai (This guy is different).”