The spring that started in school

A visit to the Rizvi Springfield High School in Mumbai reveals the effort that goes into making champions out of school cricketers; Prithvi Shaw, Sarfaraz Khan and Armaan Jaffer are ex-students.

Prithvi Shaw poses for the camera with his team after scoring 546 in a Harris Shield game in 2013.   -  Special Arrangement

These days, Javed Rizvi and Raju Pathak do not have enough leisurely gatherings due to their tight work schedule. But once you sit them down over tea, cricket is all they talk about.

Javed helped the Rizvi family fulfill the dream of running a school that excels in cricket. Pathak has been his right hand.

Rizvi Springfield High School, a late entrant in the already established school cricket circuit in the late eighties in the then Bombay, wanted to produce champions. After two-and-a-half decades, one may say half of the dream has been accomplished. Prithvi Shaw, one of the ex-students, lifted the India U-19 World Cup this year.

Sarfaraz Khan and Armaan Jaffer, the nephew of the former India cricketer Wasim Jaffer, displayed flashes of glory when they ended as runner-up in the colts’ World Cup in 2016.

Today, all three of them have earned Indian Premier League contracts.

A new generation

Springfield showcased an improvised version of the Bombay style of batsmanship. Its players struck a balance between the traditional defensive mould and the 360-degree shot-making. The khadoos culture had given way to a new perspective to the game, the switch-when-you-have-to mode.

“They were the turning point in our school cricket culture. They completely changed the idea of cricket,” recalls Javed, the trustee of the Rizvi Education Society.

Read: Cricket on the streets with Sachin

With the school busy hosting board exams, Pathak and Javed spared a few minutes to tell Sportstar how the trio turned the tide and made their school popular on the cricketing map.

The education society began with the College of Arts, Science and Commerce and the school in the year 1985. The era was dominated by Dadar schools those days. Shardhashram Vidyamandir — better known as the alma mater of Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli — and IEN VN Sule bossed around the maidans.

Missed classes and notes
  • “Most of the help came from the school. Facilities, taking extra classes and providing notes, conducting enough practice games and much more. Armaan could focus on his cricket because of the school as it also ensured he didn’t neglect his studies. They got photocopies of notes from the top students to help him. The school wanted to play him from his first year but I was reluctant to let him play. He was young and too slow. He would play 400 balls and score 50. But Raju (Pathak) was adamant and got the best out of him.”

           — Kaleem Jaffer, father of Armaan

Springfield’s entry among the big guns took many by surprise. There were also allegations of fielding over-age players but none could be proved by medical tests. “At one point, I had become tired and said I wouldn’t play at all. But they couldn’t prove anything. We knew how tough our journey was. When we began, we had randomly asked students as to who could play,” chuckles Javed, while urging Pathak to help him remember the time when the tide turned.

Rizvi Springfield School won the Harris Sheild six consecutive times since 2008; a young Prithvi Shaw (second from left in the first row) played alongside Sarfaraz Khan from 2009. Photo: Special Arrangement

 

“It took us time. I came in at 1993 and I had a plan in mind. But there were failures. There were top schools like Swami Vivekandand International School (Rohit Sharma’s school), Shardashram and Sule. All these institutions had a set cricket team. When we started, we used to concede 400 and be all out for 50. We didn’t know how to go about it. Then, we planned how to pick the right players,” says Pathak.

Scouting process

Springfield followed a unique method to identify champions. “We would target schools that had only one or two good cricketers. For example, if there is only one good player in a particular school and the team doesn’t do that well, we would ask that player to join us. The kit also comes free,” adds Pathak with a grin.

Eventually, Pathak guided the Springfield boys to 14 Harris Shield titles and eight Giles Shield titles — the two most prestigious inter-school tournaments. “The entire administration backed our boys. The president of our education society, Dr. Akhtar Hassan Rizvi, who is also a former member of the Rajya Sabha, supported us a lot. When we started playing, we were competing against schools that were over 100 years old,” adds Pathak.

The deadly trio

The trend of constructing run mountains was started by Sarfaraz, who smashed 439 against Indian Education Society at Cross Maidan in 2009 in the Harris Shield. It triggered the change.

(From left): Armaan Jaffer, Javed Rizvi, Sarfaraz Khan and Raju Pathak. Photo: Special Arrangement

 

Jaffer bettered the record with a 498 against IES Raja Shivaji in 2010 in the Giles Shield. Prithvi went further ahead with a 546 against St. Francis D’Assisi in 2013 in the Harris Shield. But Jaffer again hammered a 473 against Sule in the final the same year.

“Prithvi came when he was in the third standard. He was very raw. I told Javed sahab isko dena hai admission (he needs admission), [at] that time we didn’t know he was special. One day, I called him to the nets. We had three or four nets for different age-groups. I told him to go to the kids’ net, but he wanted to play with the seniors. I remember telling him strictly that pehle is me jao, baad ka baad me dekhte hai (first, you go to the junior nets). But he only played three balls there. He was so good that I had to bring him out. The first time he met me, he was in casuals. But in a cricket attire, he looked special,” Pathak reminisces.

Competition and a direction

The competition between the three of them increased the school’s hunger to push limits. Now, every kid wants to become a Sarfaraz or a Prithvi. “Three of them have even played together. I remember playing them in the Worli U-14 tournament where they performed and earned a chance in Harris Shield. The game where Sarfaraz scored 439 batting at No. 4, Prithvi had opened while Armaan came in at No 3,” he reveals.

The trend of constructing run mountains was started by Sarfaraz who smashed 439 against Indian Education Society at Cross Maidan in 2009 in the Harris Shield. Photo: Special Arrangement

 

Apparently, three of them were so competitive that there have been situations where one wouldn’t rotate the strike. “If one scored a 100, the second has to score a 150. At times, they would not change strike. Our change began during that time. It was around 2009, when we used to bat one innings and get the other team out but with students passing out, teams change. Not all kids can be a Prithvi or a Sarfaraz,” Pathak says.

One of the notable corners of the old school (the new school building is in Khar at present) is the open auditorium that changes into a monsoon cricket camp during the rains. The students are not allowed to take it easy.

“We have our own sets of trainers and physiotherapists who train them during this period,” say the duo.

(From left): Javed Rizvi, the late Abis Rizvi - son of Dr Akhtar Hassan Rizvi, Armaan Jaffer, Raju Pathak and Kaleem Jaffer. Photo: Special Arrangement

 

Springfield won the Harris Shield title six consecutive times from 2008. Seven of its players — Agam Pandit, Uday Karkera, Arif Sunasra, Harvinder Singh, along with Sarfaraz, Armaan and Prithvi — represented India in junior cricket; players like Vijay Gohil and Aditya Dhumal play for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy.

But ever since Sarfaraz became popular with the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, parents keep pestering Pathak to make their kid an IPL player. “That’s what most people ask these days. But they need to understand that a Prithvi or a Sarfaraz will arrive once among 100 players,” he adds.

Both Pathak and Javed want to stick to the basics and not get carried away by the achievements of the alumni. “Cricket has a simple funda – ball selection and shot selection. You should never look at the bowler; just look at the ball,” says Pathak while Javed nods in agreement.