WINDIES TOUR OF INDIA, 2018
The nerves were there but it just didn’t show for Prithvi Shaw on debut © AFP
When India’s 293rd Test player, the 18-year-old Prithvi Shaw, walked in to bat, he admitted to having been “nervous”. But there’s nothing abnormal about it. For however many runs one might have scored at the levels building up to this stage, Test cricket shall always remain a different beast to conquer. So what if the debut is in the familiar climes of India, on a wicket that has produced truckloads of runs in the past; so what if it has a generous covering of grass on it and so what if the opposition is the Windies – sans Kemar Roach and their skipper Jason Holder. It’s no more India A after all that he is playing for here, it is India.
It was not too long ago when KL Rahul, Shaw’s opening partner on Thursday, himself had walked out to bat for the first time in Test cricket. Of course, his challenges were different. It was against Australia at their home, batting at No. 6 and with the comfort of having Virat Kohli by his side, who had already scored a hundred. Off the eighth ball Rahul faced, he came charging down to lift Nathan Lyon over the top and a miscued hit was dropped by the fielder in the deep. Immediately, Kohli walked up to him, sensing nerves jangling for the young man. There was a quick chat, perhaps telling him to back himself. Rahul did, but his slog sweep the next ball could only result in a top-edge landing safely in the hands of the fielder. Talk about nerves.
On Thursday, Shaw could have chosen to take the backseat [non-striker’s end] and allowed himself that extra bit of time to wrap his head around the zillion emotions going on in his head. Rahul, who’d suddenly become this senior opening batsman in the side, could have taken the first ball for him. But no. Shaw seemed ready to take the challenge head on. It still was Windies’ best and fastest bowler waiting at the top of the run-up – Shannon Gabriel. And it took Shaw only two balls to score his first runs in international cricket with a lovely backfoot punch through covers.
It was not the first time that the world had stopped by to take notice of what this young boy was up to. Match after match, season after season, he had made everyone follow him with awe, right from the day he had smashed a record-breaking 546 for his school Rizvi Springfield at the prestigious Harris Shield competition. Every time the bar was raised, Shaw would seemingly push it further. He won the Youth Asia Cup with India Under-19 first and then hit a hundred on Ranji Trophy debut. Less than a year thereon, he repeated the feat on his Duleep Trophy debut too. When he was made the captain of the Under-19 team at the World Cup, he led the team to victory and when he was thrust into the overseas challenges with the India A setup, he proved his mettle there too.
So what if the Windies might not be the same challenge that an England would have been when the little boy was with the Indian outfit during the last two Tests. He was fighting his own baggage, a reputation that he had built knock by knock. Even on Thursday, when Shaw was staying leg-side of the ball at most times to punch off the backfoot and cut fiercely through point, he was evoking comparisons again.
Just five deliveries old in Test cricket, Shaw had an interesting induction at the top level. His senior opening partner Rahul had been rapped on the pad and the umpire had given him out. All of a sudden, the 18-year-old, was involved in some crucial decision-making. Take that for a quick graduation, even though it resulted in a failed review.
That if it played on his mind for a little while is unknown but it was a tricky welcome to the toughest format of the sport. Minutes later, in the second over, the teenager would quash those doubts in everyone’s mind. In a match-up of sorts against the one-Test old Keemo Paul, Shaw took on him to punch him through the cover region for four – the first boundary of the series, and importantly, his first at this level. He’d go on to hit him for three more in his next over. Such was his strokeplay that it forced the Windies on to the defensive, in as early as the ninth over.
It’s strange how an opposition succumbed to the debutant’s threat so early that they put four fielders in the deep with their lead spinner Devendra Bishoo bowling his first over. It was this tenacity to go after Bishoo that stood out on the day, with his treatment of the opposition’s primary workhorse having the potential to throw him off his plans so early in the series. It were these phases that he won that made him special.
Windies’ fielding coach Nic Pothas concurred. “You put two batters in who were scoring pretty freely, it is a game of chess. You do not want the game to run away from you early in a Test match. It is tough conditions and what you do not want is to have a day that goes in excess of 400 or 420 because you keep fielders in attacking positions for too long.”
Off the pacers, Shaw was mellifluous. Every time they pinged their usual hard lengths, Shaw sent them a gentle reminder that it doesn’t work that way in this part of the world. Every time they bowled closer to the stumps, he let them know that he’d the on-side game too, displaying his flicks and glances. And every time it was slightly outside off, he let them go without making much fuss. The fields were open but the run-rate still remained around a comfortable five at Lunch and quite similar till he hung around.
In Shaw’s offensive march ahead, an otherwise sedate Cheteshwar Pujara, too, scored a brisk fifty before Lunch on the first day’s play, a feat he’d never achieved in his 62-Test career. Pujara though would fall 14 short of his hundred.
Only a few hours ago, Shaw had been handed his first Test cap in a team huddle by his skipper and here he was telling him about how the pitch had been behaving so far and if there was any particular thing that the incoming batsman would need to know before taking strike.
Only some time back, Shaw had pushed a ball through the covers to bring up a majestic hundred on debut, becoming the second youngest Indian batsman to do so in Test cricket. Unfortunately though, there wasn’t the biggest audience to witness him punch the air. There was neither the kind of challenge he’d have had, had he debuted in England. What was there though was the same old habit to score hundreds on debut.
… so what if he’s playing for India, he still knows how to score them.