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India v England

Leaving Prithvi Shaw in the wilderness risks pushing him in the wrong direction again

Prithvi Shaw India
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read

Two months after being dropped, rather harshly, from the Indian Test team and largely being forgotten in international cricket, Prithvi Shaw did everything and more to warrant a return, but has been ignored for the upcoming ODI series against England.

It took just one Test to send Prithvi Shaw’s stocks plummeting. Here was a 21-year-old, playing his second away Test series and facing Mitchell Starc with a new pink ball – it was a steep challenge and Shaw faltered, but the resulting reactions bordered on the extreme.

There’s no denying Shaw has technical challenges to iron out – the twin dismissals projected an obvious flaw, but it was still early days in the young prodigy’s career, one that has promised so much ever since he created a national record aged 14, and kept breaking records thereafter.

Imagine the unrelenting criticism of being dropped after just one failure, which made the U19 World Cup-winning captain feel “worthless” on the “saddest day of his life”.

While the Adelaide Test itself was an abnormality in India’s Test history, Shaw’s twin failures were a poor illustration of the batsman’s capabilities, one that goes much beyond his technical shortcomings against the red ball. Yet, in a structure as unforgiving as Indian cricket, reputations take a backseat, and Shaw required old-fashioned hard work to fight his way back.

Since the debacle of that Adelaide Test, Shaw has done everything within his power to redeem himself. Within two months, he broke the record for the most runs in a single edition of the Vijay Hazare Trophy, India’s domestic List A competition. He ended with 827 runs @ 165.40, leading Mumbai to the title with as many as three 150-plus scores. One of them was an unbeaten 227, a wondrous knock that fully illustrated his appetite for big scores; it was closely followed by scores of 185* and 165. Beyond the numbers, though, it would have required tremendous resolve to bounce back from the harrowing memories of Adelaide and lead his side to the title, while also annihilating batting records on the way.

It probably isn’t that simple though. The Adelaide game can’t be compared to his purple patch in domestic Indian cricket  – the conditions and opposition were vastly different, and there’s still plenty of work needed on his technical shortcomings in the longer format. Jwala Singh, Shaw’s former coach, told Wisden India during the Australia tour that there had been a series of problems that he had to iron out in Test cricket, starting with the delay in him planting his front foot.

“If your front foot is not planted, your head will stay behind, which leads to a lot of problems – including the bat-pad gap and the angle of the bat. He likes attacking cricket, it has worked for him everywhere but he hadn’t played in Australia conditions. He needs to rework his planning for days cricket.”

In limited-overs cricket, though, there’s no denying his capabilities, and it could still be the right avenue for him to forge a recall. The red-ball game might still need a bit of fine-tuning, but Shaw’s recent white-ball numbers are an emphatic statement from the youngster to remind people what he is capable of. At 21, Shaw can’t be a finished product already, and like every cricketer, needs a learning curve to get better at his game. In fact, it’s imperative Indian cricket handles him better, ensuring he’s not forgotten like the long list of unfulfilled talents in Indian cricket history.

For a player who overcame plenty of early setbacks in his life to become a batting phenom, the meteoric rise, and the subsequent fall, would have been a nightmare to handle. Jwala insisted on how he needs to be handled delicately, and spoke about the role of the seniors is supremely important in helping him understand the crests and troughs.

“When you come from a rough background and encounter glamour and new things while spending time and playing alongside role models, subconsciously we don’t know how to deal with.”

“Seniors, they need to counsel him. He’s too young – people his age are graduating from college – but since he’s breaking records, there is clearly something extraordinary in him. He needs counselling instead of blaming all the time, because the person cant understand where he can improve. Give him examples of past cricketers who were talented, but couldn’t fulfil their potential because of wrong reasons.”

With a List A batting average of 58.18, and an aggregate of 423 from his last three games, Shaw has done enough and more to be reconsidered in the Indian setup. Test cricket might still be a little far away, but he’s done little wrong since the Adelaide Test to not be provided with a chance to prove himself again. The snub in the ODI series against England has cut the wheels off his comeback vehicle. After his prolific returns in the recent past, leaving him in the wilderness could push him in the wrong direction once again.

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