Led from the front by Prithvi Shaw, the under-19 Indian cricket team beat Australia under 19 convincingly by eight wickets in the final tie to claim the Under-19 Cricket World Cup title. Priyansh takes a look at the skipper’s career so far and the promise he has shown, drawing a clear comparison with Virat Kohli, who too tasted success at the under-19 level.
In the world of sport, seldom are sporting heroes divorced from myths and legends. They give rise to imagination, storytelling and narrative-building. Prithvi Shaw’s fledgling genius is already in the throes of heroism. When Booker Prize-winning author Aravind Adiga wrote Selection Day, the protagonist Manjunath Kumar’s cricketing journey bore a striking resemblance to that of the current India under-19 captain.
On Saturday, when Shaw set out to lead the Indian side against Australia in the World Cup final at Mount Maunganui, he had another chance to burnish his already-gleaming star. And he did not disappoint as the captain of a young team. Under his captaincy, India under-19 team convincingly beat Australia by eight wickets to claim the world cup title.
The batsman’s story has been marked out by an inevitable path to stardom. Since his early years, Shaw made a name for himself by amassing bounteous runs across tournaments. The prodigy’s disposition to act beyond his age on the cricket field still marks him out.
Evidence of Shaw’s growing maturity was witnessed last October when he scored 66 for the Board President’s XI against New Zealand in a warm-up game. The Kiwis possessed Tim Southee and Trent Boult, two of the best seamers in international cricket, but the Mumbai boy was rather unfazed. Although he has not got a chance to exhibit the entire range of his wares at the ongoing World Cup — such has been India’s dominance — Shaw’s assured manner has stood out in every innings he has played. Opening the batting, his lowest score in four innings has been 29 in the final.
Of course, alongside the adulation and mythmaking, comparisons follow the teenager. Shaw has been called the next Sachin Tendulkar and even Virender Sehwag-like. His relatively short frame, at five feet and seven inches, and his aggressive demeanour while batting naturally invite such comparisons. One suspects that after Shaw has led India to victory, he would be matched up with another skipper who tasted success at the under-19 level – Virat Kohli.
India boasts a rich record in the junior World Cup. Arguably, no other cricketer has translated his success at the under-19 level to senior cricket like Kohli. He continues to push the boundaries of excellence, something that is often said about Shaw as well.
Once he led India to the under-19 World Cup title in 2008, it was only a matter of time before Kohli replicated his dominance at the senior level. This expectation will follow Shaw too. However, it is not an easy responsibility to bear. Just ask Unmukt Chand, who guided India to glory at the 2012 under-19 World Cup. The early promise has faded somewhat, albeit there might be more to come from Chand who is still 24.
However, Shaw’s record in first-class cricket gives rise to confidence in his ability. In 18 innings, he has already accumulated five centuries at a delightful average of 56.52. Wherever Shaw has played, runs have arrived aplenty. So have the rewards.
From being gifted a flat by a Shiv Sena politician at the age of 11 to employment by Indian Oil last year, Shaw has already raked in the benefits his success commands. The batsman was also snapped up by MRF in 2017, who of course sponsor Virat Kohli’s willow too. There will, of course, be greater rewards in store if India remains unbeaten at the end of this under-19 World Cup.
It is not, though, as if Shaw’s game exists without flaws. Bowlers in domestic cricket are aware now that his penchant to flash on the off-side makes him vulnerable. The trouble for them is that it is also the strongest aspect of his game. His dimunitive frame invites short-pitched bowling but it also helped Shaw develop the cut, one of his favourite shots. Consequently, he became a strong back foot player.
Shaw’s occasional failures, though, have lent him a greater awareness of his fallibilities. This can be witnessed in a more judicial use of his strongest weapons now. Shaw’s work on his technique has underlined the savvy approach which defines his game.
Of course, the step up to senior cricket will pose questions he may not have been asked yet. It is worth recalling that Kohli’s struggles with the moving ball showed him up on his first Test tour of England. While Shaw rides a wave, troughs will inevitably sneak up on him. It will be his response which will define him as a cricketer. On current evidence, Shaw seems to be well-positioned to counter the gauntlets thrown at him.
However, there is one thing which separates the teenager and Kohli. Unlike the latter, Shaw is not known to wear aggression on his sleeve. His soft-spoken ways, however, transform into a brutal evisceration of the opposition when he steps out to bat. As a fellow destroyer of bowling attacks, Virat Kohli will certainly approve. Shaw’s promise awaits its crowning glory.
The author is a cricket expert and freelance writer