Teenage opening batsman toughened by difficult childhood in Mumbai and matured to handle pressure of international cricket
India's Prithvi Shaw has mental strength to overcome bigger challenges
Prithvi Shaw has a lot going for him already.
He does not necessarily come from money, but he was born to play cricket at international level – something millions of Indians would trade their souls in exchange for. He is yet to turn 19, so age is on his side. He also has his immigrant father to thank for raising him in faraway Mumbai, because that meant he spent much of his childhood having to rise up to challenges the city threw at him.
India’s commercial capital may be open for business to all and sundry, but it forces you to succeed the hard way. Waking up early in the morning every weekday to travel halfway across what is a very big town, on trains teeming with people and in hot and sweaty conditions, is anything but easy.
It is a challenge made even more arduous by the fact that "Mumbaikars" are by and large self-driven and highly competitive, because this is a city that places great emphasis on meritocracy.
The late journalist Rajan Bala once told this writer that the farther one lived from downtown Mumbai, the likelier he [and these days even she] was to score a big hundred or take five wickets in a match – whatever the level of cricket.
Shaw, whose mother died when he was only four years old – which probably meant he had to grow up even quicker – lived in a nearby town called Virar in his early years, which is as far as you can get from downtown. It may explain how he climbed one rung of the cricket ladder after another.
He scored what was then an Indian schools cricket record of 546 runs for Rizvi Springfield in a Harris Shield match, before going on to represent the prestigious MIG Cricket Club. He became only the second Indian cricketer – after fellow Mumbai hero Sachin Tendulkar – to hit hundreds in his first Ranji Trophy and Duleep Trophy matches.
Now, this is not to say that anyone who lives in Mumbai is guaranteed success. In fact, fewer cricketers from there make the national team these days than they did in the 1970s and 80s. That being said, Shaw already has a strong foundation on which to build a successful career.
Two former superstars of the game, Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, believe he is primed for the big time.
Tendulkar, like Shaw a Mumbaikar who made his India debut as a teenager, had predicted that he would one day play for his country. The latter, coach of the Under 19 team which won the World Cup this year, played a role in guiding Shaw the captain.
Shaw’s leadership was impressive during the tournament, especially in the semi-final against arch-rivals Pakistan. It would have been understandable for 11 teenagers to go over the top with their celebrations given what was at stake, but instead they maintained their poise throughout the game and focused on the bigger picture: winning.
His obvious maturity puts Shaw in good stead for the leadership role of the senior side in the distant future, but for now he needs to prove his mettle with the bat at the top of the order.
That he became the youngest ever Indian to score a hundred in his first Test has been celebrated – and deservedly so – but it is a shame that there is an invisible asterisk next to his score of 134 in the minds of many, including this writer.
Why? Because it came against a weak West Indian bowling attack on a fairly comfortable batting pitch at Rajkot.
This should not matter though, for a hundred is a hundred.
But Shaw must be mindful of the fact that only six of the 14 other Indians to score hundreds in their first Tests went on to cross three-figures a second time.
Of those six batsmen, the legacies of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma remain mixed as both players continue to struggle in the long format despite their successes in one-day international and Twenty20 cricket.
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Shaw will not want to go down their routes. Like his captain Virat Kohli, he will strive to be a complete cricketer – one who has excelled regardless of format and conditions.
He has been brought into the side at a time of great opportunity.
There seems to be a churn in India’s batting order, with both Dhawan and Murali Vijay having been dropped from the side. Lokesh Rahul, India’s other opener and seven years Shaw’s senior, has yet to prove his considerable pedigree on a consistent basis – despite scoring Test hundreds in Australia and England.
Hence, Shaw should be a shoo-in for India’s tour down under this winter. Whether he plays in any of the four Tests there will depend on how he performs in the second Test against the Windies, which gets under way in Hyderabad on Friday.
Bigger challenges await the youngster, but his life story suggests that he has not just the wherewithal but also the mental make-up to overcome them.