Prithvi Shaw, Riddle And Delight

Fresh off a record 379 in the Ranji Trophy, the gifted Mumbai maverick has earned a recall in the Indian T20 side. Can he at last find the sustained discipline to do justice to his talent?

Shaw returns to the national team after an 18-month absence.

If someone were to make a list of modern-day Indian cricketers who have endured a turbulent period in their careers, Prithvi Shaw’s name might feature at the top.

From scoring a century on his international debut to leading the Indian U-19 team to a World Cup triumph, injuring his ankle during a promising tour to Australia to allegedly rubbing people the wrong way with his attitude, the stylish opener, just 23, seemingly has the life membership of some rollercoaster somewhere.

Shaw is on the up again. He scored a 383-ball 379 in the Ranji Trophy for Mumbai against Assam. It’s the second-highest score in the tournament behind Bhausaheb Nimbalkar (443). Deservedly, Shaw earned a call-up to India’s T20 side against the visiting New Zealand side for a series starting on January 27.

Shaw’s Early Days and International Debut

Shaw grabbed attention in 2012 during a Harris Shield match wherein he blasted 546 runs in an innings, earning him praise from his idol Sachin Tendulkar.

In 2017, while debuting against Tamil Nadu for Mumbai, he scored a quickfire century in the second innings to win his team the match.

With his flamboyance and ability to strike the ball cleanly, Shaw not only secured a place in the Rahul Dravid-managed U-19 Indian team, but also captained it at the 2018 U-19 World Cup, which India won.

Later in the same year, Shaw made his senior Test debut against the West Indies, scoring a brisk 154-ball 134. He followed up with a 70 off 53 balls.

Injury, Disciplinary Issues, Doping Scandal

Injuries and his reportedly less than ideal lifestyle, however, became obstacles in his journey. In 2018, during a tour match in Australia, he suffered an ankle injury that would keep him out of the side for the entire series. He had also come under scrutiny from the team management for his “lack of effort”. Later, reports of his unruly behavior emerged.

Worse was to follow. His urine sample, sent for testing in February 2019, showed traces of Terbutaline, a banned substance. The youngster was slapped with a backdated ban for eight months.

Shaw told the media that he unintentionally ingested the substance through cough syrup. 

“I think dad and I are responsible for the cough syrup controversy,” he said in one interview. “I remember we were playing the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in Indore and I was down with a cold and cough at that time. So, I had gone out for dinner and was coughing a lot. So, I spoke to my dad. He asked me to take the cough syrup available in the market. What I did wrong was I did not consult the physio, which was wrong on my part.” 

A string of good performances upon return resulted in an ODI call-up against the Kiwis.

Inconsistent Fitness

In 2022, however, Prithvi failed to clear the Yo-Yo test at the NCA (National Cricket Academy), resulting in his career going on a downward spiral.

R Sridhar, India’s fielding coach at the time, shed light on the issue in a YouTube interview, saying, "The reason why Shaw has fallen down the pecking order is first, his fitness. I'm not sure why he's not able to make it into these squads. He started off the IPL well, but slowly as the tournament progressed, his performances fell apart a little bit, if I might say so."

At a time when older players such as Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav and Mohammed Shami looked in better shape, for a 22-year-old cricketer to appear quite the opposite was unacceptable.

Class is Permanent

To retain his spot in the team, Shaw needed a grand innings. That day arrived on January 10, 2023, during Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy match against Assam, when he would break multiple records en route to his 379. Shaw’s heroics garnered national attention. With the Kiwis visiting India soon, the squad for T20Is was named with Shaw included in it.

It is not yet certain how where he will fit in the team’s plans. But he is doing his bit to be battle ready. 

“I did a lot of fitness work. I worked on weight loss and reduced by seven to eight kgs after the last IPL,” he said in an interview. “I spent a lot of time in the gym, did a lot of running, and didn't consume any sweets and cold drinks. Chinese food is totally out of my menu now.”

Some time ago, Shaw was going through a rough phase in terms of consistency and his reputation. He was being compared with Vinod Kambli, the yesteryear bad boy who squandered much of his talent on partying. He sought out Tendulkar for guidance, as he has on other occasions. Tendulkar then called Shaw for a meal and had a word with the younger man about “life on and off the pitch,” as Tendulkar put it later. 

Now, Shaw has his foot in the door again. The rest is up to his ability, luck, and above all, whether he can stick with the discipline part.