The Englishman who noticed India's 'Shaw' stopper

Julian Wood, the former Hampshire opener, was one of the few to spot Prithvi Shaw's talent, rightly predicting the Mumbai boy's rise to fame.

Julian Wood noticed something special in Prithvi Shaw, when he started working on his batting.   -  Special Arrangement

It was February of 2018. The India U-19 team had just won a record fourth World Cup title beating Australia by eight wickets in New Zealand. Meanwhile, back in India, Mumbai was gearing up for a Vijay Hazare clash against Tamil Nadu in Chennai.

Outside Crowne Plaza, the standard port of call for the visiting Mumbai squad, a sturdy boy, dressed in black shorts and grey jersey, stealthily walked through the exit gate - virtually unnoticed - desperately trying to cover his face.

And it wasn't until after he had crossed the street that his identity was revealed. Prithvi Shaw, the U-19 captain, was in town and was expected to open the innings with Jay Bista in the Hazare Trophy.

READ| The blossoming of Prithvi Shaw

While the diminutive opener could afford to walk freely on the streets of Mount Maunganui, at home, he had found that fame has its price. After all, he wasn't just another teenager frequenting the maidans of Mumbai anymore, he was the captain of the U-19 World Cup-winning Indian side.

"I have followed his [Prithvi Shaw] progress closely and it is no surprise to me to see him where he currently is, it was always going to happen, and he will continue to improve," Julian Wood - former Hampshire opener - among the first few people to spot Shaw's talent, tells Sportstar.

And as Shaw flayed the South Africa 'A' bowlers at the M. Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru, scoring a 136 off 196 balls on Sunday, he made another rapid stride towards India contention.

Man in a boy's body

Wood, who runs the Julian Wood Cricket Academy (JWCA) in Bradfield, first saw Shaw at the tender age of eight. "The first thing I noticed was his size, very small though stocky in build. His technique was perfect, very pure, looked like a man playing in a boy's body. The way he hit the ball was different to anyone I’d seen at that age, with real punch," the power-hitting coach says.

"He played in a U-14 match for the MIG CC vs JWCA. He scored 74, something special was formed that day, a day that one will always remember!" he adds.

The right-handed batsman was in fine touch at the U-19 World Cup, making two half-centuries — 94 and 57 not out — and a couple of 40s in seaming and swinging conditions. But Wood remembers his young protege's early struggles with the moving ball.

Julian Wood follows Shaw's career very closely and looks forward to working with him in the future.   -  Special Arrangement

 

"When he came to the UK, he trained at the Academy and played Premier League cricket. He performed well in the matches but had a tendency to struggle against the movement and bounce of the English pitches causing him to get caught behind often. This was something that we looked at and trained hard at the Academy," he points out.

At 18, Shaw has already brushed shoulders with the elites of the game. Playing for the Delhi Daredevils - which lapped him up for Rs. 1.2 crore - Shaw plied his trade alongside the likes of Gautam Gambhir, Glenn Maxwell and Jason Roy.

Playing with cricketers - some of whom are twice his age - isn't a new thing for Shaw. "He was 13 years old when he played county 2nd XI for Gloucestershire (which is unheard of in the UK)," Wood says before adding, "He would bat with county players five years older than him and you would find them asking Prithvi about playing spin etc. His knowledge of the game was phenomenal!"

READ| Prithvi: Dravid asked me to stick to what I'm comfortable with

Shaw first shot to fame as a 14-year old when he plundered 546 off 330 balls, scoring a staggering 85 boundaries and five sixes, for Rizvi Springfield in the Harris Shield tournament.

He even managed to break the great Sachin Tendulkar's record in 2017. Aged 17, he became the youngest player to score a century on his Duleep Trophy debut.

Wood, who has previously worked with England internationals Joe Root, Alex Hales, Sam Billings, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes knew, from the time he took Shaw under his wings, that he was dealing with something special.

"I believe the nature of the modern game dictates the way you have to play. He will learn as he goes on.

"I will continue to follow his progress and, who knows, one day do some more work with him within the T20 Franchises.

"The modern game is an entertainment business, and he’s definitely entertaining!"