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Prithvi Shaw: Those who know me, know how I am – I don’t like to make friends | Interview

Prithvi Shaw interview: The batter speaks about success and failure, India snub, county cricket and more
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 5 minute read

The life and times of Prithvi Shaw, in his own words. Success, failure, introspection, disappointments – he bares it all in a freewheeling chat.

Speaking to Prithvi Shaw after the Duleep Trophy final, in a joint interview that becomes more of a heart-to-heart, a revelation is made: he doesn’t believe in the concept of best friends.

“People say a lot of things about me. But those who know me, know how I am. I don’t have friends, I don’t like to make friends,” Shaw tells Wisden India and Cricbuzz. “This is what’s happening in this generation. You can’t share your thoughts with anyone else.”

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For the next half hour, Shaw shares. There is a lot of noise outside Shaw’s bubble, so much so that he no longer likes to leave it. As a person, he just likes to be in his zone.

“If I go out, people will harass. They will put up something on social media, so I prefer not to step out these days.”

“What do I do going out? Jaha bhi jaau, kuch na kuch hota hai (laughs). [Wherever I go, something or the other happens] Jaana hi band kar diya hoon [I’ve stopped going out only] These days, I’ve been going out alone even for lunches and dinners. I’ve started enjoying being alone now.

“I feel the concept of best friend has been created by us. ‘He’s my best friend’. Friends are fine, but there are no best friends as such. I also have, I am also a friend, but best friend – you won’t share everything with them. You won’t give your ATM pin to them, right? They say ‘best friend is the one who shares everything’. We can’t share all this, no?”

Shaw clearly isn’t shy of opening up, and has been happy to do so even more in the past. But he wears his new way of being easily. He isn’t completely closed off – there is a circle with whom he plays FIFA on Playstation, or just hangs out, and for the most part, being on his own suits just fine.

The disconnect is conveyed in an anecdote about a recent solo trip to watch Insidious: The Red Door in a Bengaluru multiplex. To escape being mobbed, he wore a mask, cap glasses and jacket up to his face and camped in one corner of the hall. But he jokes about the experience. “My god, it [the movie] was so scary,” he says. “I’m so glad it was not 3D! I was all alone, and wouldn’t have been able to ask anyone!”

“I do long for it,” he says, when asked if he wishes his life were simpler. “But I can’t do all that now. God has given me another life. I’ve lived the other life. Now I need to do something good.”

Shaw has realised he needs a defence mechanism, walls put up after the moat was breached one too many times. He is easy to warm to, but he’s also attracted his share of controversy. An eight-month backdated doping violation in 2019, attributed to a particular cough syrup, proved to be an early setback. More recently, a scuffle over a fan selfie, in which Shaw was allegedly physically assaulted, dampened the joy of an India recall that had come just a month earlier. When you’re a superstar in waiting, you become naturally distrustful of those attempting to pierce your inner sanctum. Shaw has learned that it’s easiest to shut out the distractions.

“I say things frankly,” he says. “Earlier, when someone would speak to me nicely, I would open up easily. Later, I would get to know someone is saying the same things behind my back. Not once, this has happened several times. But it doesn’t matter to me now.

“I don’t know exactly when, but I got to know how things are here. You can’t be good to everyone. I don’t like to be bad to everyone. My dad also says: ‘Tu thoda bhola hai, isliye bol dete hain, jo nahi bhi bolna chahiye’ [You’re innocent, that’s why they say things, even things they shouldn’t be]. Dad has been saying it for a long time, but I have realised it now. I couldn’t see it before, that’s why I didn’t realise. I have experienced it, and understand now.”

***

For the moment, Shaw has plenty of cricket to occupy his time. Soon after this interview, at the Duleep Trophy final, Shaw will fly out to the UK, to link up with Northamptonshire for his maiden County stint. He won’t have to go around in a disguise. It will just be him, his bat and hopefully, big runs.

“I just want to take it as a game. It’s just like the first-class games we play here. Nothing huge, just a different experience. Getting an invitation from there means a lot. It’s the same – I’ll have to go there and score runs for the team because that’s what they are expecting from me.”

Will he be influenced by Bazball, a form of play his batting is naturally aligned to?

“I don’t understand what they mean when they say Bazball,” he quips. “The way I play is that if I see the ball, I hit the ball. I don’t know what people will call that. Whether they call it baseball, hockey or whatever they want to call it, at the end of day, woh apna cricket hai [that’s our sport – cricket].”

Shaw hasn’t played international cricket in England yet, but spent considerable time in the UK over multiple stints. Eleven years ago, Shaw, yet to be a teenager, attended Cheadle Hulme High School for six months as part of an exchange program. In his first game for the school, he notched a century. In 2018, a year into his first-class career, he toured with India A, smashing a second-innings 188 in his first red-ball game there, against a West Indies A team. A month earlier, in his first white-ball game on English soil, he raced to a 61-ball 70 against an ECB XI, and against Leicestershire two days later, cracked a 90-ball 132.

Prithvi Shaw

Prithvi Shaw batting for India U19 against England U19 in Chesterfield in 2017

This time, he’ll feature in two Championship matches and six One-Day Cup games. “I’ve been going to England since I was a little kid,” Shaw says. “This is a new team for me. I’m not aware of what their culture is like. It might take some time to get set to that. I’ve been in touch with them and they have been quite welcoming towards me.”

But this isn’t just a chance to revisit a happy stomping ground; it’s an opportunity for a hard refresh on a career that has fallen from the heights it seemed destined to reach and maintain in its early stages.

Right from the start, Shaw was a prodigy. At the age of 14, he shattered records by smashing 546 in a school game. When he was just 15, a Trans World Sport documentary titled ‘Prithvi Shaw: The Next Sachin Tendulkar?’ captured him near the start of his journey.

Three years later, he was captaining India to the Under-19 World Cup title, with a carefree 94 in his side’s opening game against eventual runners-up Australia showcasing his dazzling potential. That success led to an India A stint, and then a full India debut later that year. Shaw’s abundant talent was evident, and he instantly looked the part in the India whites, cracking a 99-ball century against the West Indies on debut. But since that series, Shaw has played just three more Tests, and he hasn’t represented India in any format since 2021. Each snub only leads to more questions.

“When I was dropped [from the Indian team], I didn’t get to know the reason,” Shaw reveals. “Someone was saying it could be fitness. But of course I came here [to Bengaluru] and cleared all the tests at the National Cricket Academy, again scored runs and again came back to the T20I team. But again, didn’t get a chance in the West Indies.”

Shaw has his supporters, and there’s a case he’s been harshly treated. At the start of 2021 he was within four runs of being India’s highest run scorer in a two-Test crapshoot in New Zealand. One game later, he was the fall guy as India were skittled for 36 all out in Adelaide. In T20 cricket, it’s hard to shake the feeling that he’s a new age player in a country still set in its ways in the shortest format.

Prithvi Shaw interview

Prithvi Shaw became the fourth India captain to win the U19 World Cup in 2018 after Mohammad Kaif, Virat Kohli and Unmukt Chand

All Shaw can do is score runs, and he’s been racking them up by the hatful. After the Duleep final, his first-class average stands at 50.02, just a shade under his List A average (52.54). In January, he struck 379 off 382 balls against Assam, the second-highest score in Ranji Trophy history. Days after the Ranji triple, Shaw was called into the T20I team, but did not play a game. This year’s IPL, quite often a route to the senior team, turned out to be a forgettable one, but until this year he has been a phenomenon, establishing himself as the fastest powerplay scorer in the competition’s history. In the 2022/23 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Shaw was the second-highest run-getter, striking at 181.42.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, it’s now been exactly two years since he last wore the India kit.

“I’m disappointed but you just have to move forward. I can’t do anything, I can’t fight with anyone.”

Shaw’s cryptic social media posts, and there have been several, suggest the muffled pain of dealing with these ups and downs. As he’s weaved past these setbacks, he’s learned to soak in the criticism without letting it affect him.

“There’s no way you can cut that [the noise outside],” he says. “If you have ears, you are bound to hear everything that’s said about you. So when people talk, it reaches your ears. I don’t understand when people say ‘I don’t listen to outside noise’. Of course you’re going to hear what’s being said. But if you’re focussed on your game and what’s happening on the field, that’s it.

“They [ups and downs] will keep coming. You can’t stop them. I can’t lock myself in my room and sit. They will keep coming. We need to deal with them, you can’t do anything. If you know you’re right, it’s okay. People will say what they want to say. We can’t stop them from saying things.

“I switch off my phone. The mood instantly becomes better. Everything gets into your head because of social media.”

Shaw doesn’t bother fighting the misconceptions around him. “Even if I say, will they stop? They will keep saying. If I am doing good on the field, they will write good things about me. If I am not doing well (with my cricket), they will write: ‘Oh he went there, enjoyed somewhere, this and that’.

“It’s going to keep happening. It happens to the best of the players. When you are not performing, something negative does come out, even if it’s not reflective of the person. Even if I don’t step out, things will be said. We can’t stop them.”

For now, a new chapter of his life awaits in the East Midlands of England. Shaw is looking at it as a fresh beginning – he wakes up every morning thinking something nice will happen. Outside his room, it is a different world altogether, one he takes on with a brave face.

“Whenever I get up, whenever I am meeting someone, even if I am sad or disappointed, I never make the other person feel that I am going through something. Whatever it be – anger, crying – I do it in my room. Once I open my door, I am smiling again.”

Eight years ago, in that Trans World Sport documentary, a baby-faced Shaw spoke passionately about his dream of donning the India kit. “You can’t buy it. It takes a lot of hard work to earn it,” a 15-year-old Shaw had said. “It will be very difficult, but if I focus and concentrate, one day I will wear it.”

Shaw reached the highest point and returned, but hopes to reclaim the summit soon. Just like his younger self, Shaw’s eyes glisten at the mention of his dream. “All the hard work is just for that [India comeback]. That is the one dream – I want to play, at least 12-14 years for India. I want to win the World Cup for India. That is there [one big goal], I need to achieve that in my life.

“I need to work hard and score runs. That’s the only way to get there. I am trying, let’s see.”

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