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Flying Prithvi Shaw from Sri Lanka to England won’t help him or India

Shaw Australia
by Sarah Waris 5 minute read

Calling up Prithvi Shaw to England as cover for the injured Shubman Gill would send the wrong message, writes Sarah Waris.

The arrival of Prithvi Shaw at the grandest stage after years of dominating the younger circuit was much anticipated. The Mumbaikar, who notched up big scores in domestic cricket game after game, announced himself in international cricket in an equally dominating manner, smashing 134 in his debut Test at Rajkot against West Indies in 2018. However, injuries and a doping violation ban meant that Shaw’s initial success was all but forgotten, as he had to prove himself again and seal the opener’s slot that should already have been his by 2020.

The last one and a half years have been a topsy-turvy ride for the young star, who continues to tussle for a spot in the Indian XI after an indifferent outing in Australia, where his technical skills were constantly questioned.

The technical woes affecting Shaw

In the IPL prior to the series Down Under, Sunil Gavaskar analysed the chinks in Shaw’s armour and observed why the player had become such a prime suspect for lbw and bowled dismissals. Stating that his bat used to come down at an angle that pointed towards the gully, which hindered his ability to meet the incoming deliveries, he also pointed out his minimal footwork along with a high back-lift that aggravated his woes.

Shaw, who admitted to feeling down in the dumps after he was benched from the last three Tests in Australia, worked hard on his game and returned with resounding success in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, where he top-scored with 827 runs. He was not dismissed bowled even once during the competition, and was lbw on just a single occasion — during the semifinal against Karnataka. He was on fire in the following IPL as well, where he smashed 308 runs in just eight games with a strike rate of over 166, but his efforts were not enough to seal a spot in the squad for the Tests against England.

A player, who was left to snatch his place back with continued efforts, is now reportedly being called up to replace an injured Gill in the side — a move that might not be the best for either him or the side.

A two-faced approach to the players already in the side, especially Mayank Agarwal

It wasn’t long before that Mayank Agarwal was one of the first names on the team sheet in Tests for India. However, the batsman struggled with his stance Down Under, which subsequently meant he was replaced by Gill in the XI. The batsman, however, roared back with a fine display in the IPL this year, where he smashed 260 runs in seven games, including an unbeaten 99. Mayank, who was the next big thing in Indian cricket, has just one fifty in his last nine innings, but he has adapted well in tough conditions, even though his inconsistencies overseas remain a concern.

However, it is not to say that Shaw, who too has divided returns overseas, has done enough to pip Mayank in the XI. Both batters struggled in Australia and followed it up with a resounding IPL, but Mayank’s selection in the Indian Test squad had a lot to do with his ability to bounce back after middling outings with the bat.

If the management was so confident of Shaw’s improved game, should he not have been in the original squad, instead of KL Rahul, who last played a Test in 2019, rather than in the one named for Sri Lanka? What has changed since the squad was announced and now?

Reputation over returns?

If the latter is indeed called up, and then given a chance to open, despite the backups available at India’s disposal, it will be unfair on the incumbent players in the squad who have worked hard over the years. Abhimanyu Easwaran, though a back-up in the team, has amassed over 4,400 runs in first-class cricket at an average of 43.57, has been touted as a potential big Test star, but as he witnesses first-hand how a player is favoured ahead of him, the sense of despair that he might feel cannot be discounted. Just ask Karun Nair!

Moreover, Shaw, who has just played six innings away from home, does not have the greatest record either. His knocks of 16, 14, 54, 14, 0 and 4 away from home are not exactly eye-catching, and flying him down to England possibly midway through the Sri Lanka tour could indicate that his selection has a lot to do with reputation than returns.

If Shaw can work on his mental game with his under-19 coach Rahul Dravid in Sri Lanka, and polish out any existing flaws with the bat, he would be better placed in the long run than if he is flown to England without much preparation. Getting back up from the abyss, then, will be a harder challenge.

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