Prithvi Shaw © PTI
Prithvi Shaw © PTI

“I am a professional and when I see talent I know it. If he keeps up the work, in five years he will arguably be the best batsman in the world,” Julian Wood had prophesied about a 13-year-old Prithvi in the summer of 2013, months before he had slammed the 546 in school cricket and made headlines as the ‘next Sachin Tendulkar’. A former Hampshire all-rounder, Wood is currently a renowned coach in England and has eye for talent.

Five years later, Prithvi Shaw is leading the Indian side in the Under-19 World Cup. Best batsman? At his age, he will remain a work in progress as was Tendulkar, but he has comfortably looked the best batsman in his age group.

Debuting for the star-studded Mumbai at 17, that too in a Ranji Trophy semi-final last season, Prithvi immediately impressed with a hundred. He would later slam a hundred on his Duleep Trophy debut as well.

Let us forget the numbers for a moment.

From short selection to technique to composure to ability to dominate, Prithvi has stood out in all his outings so far. He recently said that though it isn’t easy facing the bowlers in First-Class cricket, he finds it easy to pick them, in terms of what the bowler is going to bowl.

Rahul Dravid, India Under-19 coach, believes Prithvi is more mature than his peers and colleagues and about how the World Cup has thrown the spotlight on him, where he will learn to live up to the expectations.

 

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Less than a month back the buzz was about India being spoilt for choices for the opener’s spot for the South Africa series. Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul had been in ominous form while Murali Vijay returned from injury with back-to-back hundreds against Sri Lanka. Not to forget there is Parthiv Patel in the squad too.

Prithvi Shaw takes a step closer towards prophecy
Prithvi Shaw takes a step closer towards prophecy

India have slumped to 2 defeats. Vijay has scored 69 runs from 4 innings, Dhawan 32 from 2 and while Rahul 14 from 2.

The case of odd failure is understandable but Vijay and Dhawan are approaching their mid-30s and their overseas record are far from impressive. While Vijay averages just over 35 overseas, Dhawan’s average outside Asia reads 28.84, and yes this includes his outings in West Indies.

Are they expected to improve further? For a fact, this is Vijay’s third tour of South Africa.

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Even brands have tapped Prithvi’s potential. He had received a scholarship from SG early in his life, and now has been signed MRF as kit sponsors. Champions have endorsed this brand in the past. Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Steve Waugh have famously played with bats with the MRF logo, and now Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers wield it.

Talking on cricketing merits, Prithvi, identified as a teen prodigy, fits into the Virat Kohli’s template of batsmen with ‘intent’. In the nine First-Class games that the teenager has played so far, he has slammed 5 hundreds and scored 961 runs at 56.52. The strike rate of 74 as an opener only complements.

Pehle toh, I used to feel leave kiya toh yaar ek ball miss ho gaya. Now I get confidence when I leave the ball in the Ranji Trophy. I like leaving the ball,” he told Indian Express ahead of his New Zealand departure.

First-Class cricket is maturing him and the intent remains.

However, there have been the likes of Mayank Agarwal, Priyank Panchal and others who have consistently piled up runs season after season. Then why Prithvi should be given the precedence? It is about being fair and at the same time these guys have the experience.

The counterargument can be the fact that Prithvi’s career timeline has been special. Seeing glimpses of Tendulkar in him isn’t exaggeration. No, it’s not just the marathon 546 in school cricket.

- When he was 9, he slammed 73 against Julian Wood’s side at MIG
- At 11, Shiv Sena politician Sanjay Potnis gifted him a flat to live in, at Santa Cruz. This would save the travel from Virar to the main city
- Already touted as ‘next Sachin’, he received a scholarship of INR 3 lakhs annually from Nilesh Kulkarni’s sports marketing company
- In 2011, Tendulkar dropped in to watch Prithvi bat in the nets. Impressed, he informed Prithvi that he is a call away
- In 2012, he travels to Manchester for a month-long course and piles up almost a thousand-and-a-half runs
- The same year, his school Rizvi Springfield School’s cricket coach Raju Pathak said, “If Sarfaraz and Arman take 100 balls to correct one shot, Prithvi is so gifted that he can master it in 10 or 20 balls”
- It was only in 2013, a few days after Tendulkar’s retirement, when he smashed that 546 in Harris Shield
- Still 15, he played the Yorkshire Premier League and SG signed him for a INR 36 lakh sponsorship

(Note: Lungi Ngidi was a teen prodigy. He had played just 9 First-Class matches before he replaced Dale Steyn for the Centurion Test. The rest is history.)

Tendulkar was 17 when he first toured England with the Indian side and slammed his first international hundred, at Manchester. Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly were handed Indian caps in England and they thrived. Isn’t it ideal to blood Prithvi for overseas tour? If in his early teens he made an impact against the moving ball overseas, isn’t it worth investing in him for the England tour later this year?

Prithvi has led India to 3 wins in the Under-19 World Cup as they made it to the quarter-final. He has batted twice in the tournament scoring 94 and 57*. He belongs to a stage much higher than the Under-19 level.