A pleasant nip in the air in the mornings followed by mellow afternoons indicated in ample measure the arrival of splendid November days at the sprawling Azad and Cross Maidans, located between the Mumbai megapolis’ two iconic Railway Stations of Churchgate on the Western Line and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) on the Central. Millions commute from the Northern limits of the city to South Mumbai by the locals in the morning to their workplace at the business districts in Fort and Nariman Point and to take them back home. After a day’s work, men and women find their way to the Udupi restaurant, Satkar, for a cuppa and relish other savouries, and many to Fashion Street along Cross Maidan and Mahatma Gandhi Road to pick up casual wear. This is more or less a routine for a cross section of society right through the year.
But when it’s November, the city’s multitudinous cricket faithful also make it a point to catch some action at the two maidans, especially the schoolboys competing in off-whites in the Mumbai School Sports Associations’ under -14 and under-16 inter-school tournaments for the Giles Shield and the Harris Shield. Generations of Mumbai’s cricketers have cut their teeth in these two famous tournaments.
It was the start of a new cricket season and thousands of school-going cricketers in Mumbai looked at the bright side; hoping to score some runs, capture a bagful of wickets and generally take part in a cricket match.
The first round of the Harris Shield was just into the second day as one November neared its last week and the beginners and the trained cricketers were trying to warm up and find their feet for the season ahead. It was at such a time that Prithvi Shaw chose to announce to the cricketing world at the non-descript Baronet Cricket Club Ground at the Azad Maidan that another child prodigy had arrived.
On November 9, 2013 he had celebrated his 14th birthday and on November 20, Prithvi, representing Rizvi Springfield High School, made a record individual score of 546 against St. Francis D’Assisi High School, Borivali.
The chubby-faced Prithvi had batted unflappably for six hours and seven minutes, faced 330 balls and struck 85 fours and five sixes. He also added 619 for the second wicket with Satyalaksh Jain whose contribution was 164 in Springfield’s humongous score of 991. In all, Shaw faced eight bowlers, medium pace and spin. After his magnificent performance with the bat, Prithvi told Sportstar : “The coach told me to stay at the wicket and play the ball on its merit. I have a number of centuries in inter-school cricket, but my previous highest was 225. I have been playing at the Azad Maidan since 2008.’
Some 25 years ago, two greenhorns in Sachin Tendulkar (326 not out) and Vinod Kambli (349 not out) became household names, making 664 runs for the third wicket, playing for Shardashram Vidyamandir against St. Xavier’s High School, Fort, in the Harris Shield semifinal at the Sassanian Ground at Azad Maidan.
So it was during those splendid November days of 2013 that Prithvi arrived into the broader canvas of Mumbai cricket. But the story of Prithvi’s fascinating story as a boy wonder perhaps began when his father enrolled him in Class III at Rizvi Springfield; a few years after both had struck a conversation with Santosh Pingulkar, a grassroots level coach at Virar’s Municipal Corporation Udyan.
One of the first persons they met, in order to get admission at Rizvi Springfield, was Raju Pathak, mentor of the school cricket team. Raju doesn’t remember the year (2007 or 2008) the father and son came to him, but he had this story to tell: “He came from Virar (a place where many migrants have established permanent residence). My friends (Vivek Kadam and Santosh Pingulkar) told me that the boy (Prithvi) was talented and asked me to take a look at him. I conduct school nets at the Bandra Reclamation Ground and told them to report there after a few days. And on the day Prithvi reported at the nets, Iqbal Siddiqui (former Hyderabad, Maharashtra and India cricketer) was also present. The school ran four-five nets (juniors and seniors) and I asked Prithvi to bat at the chota nets. He immediately protested. “ Pehle se he Prithivi chanchal (restless) tha .” He said: ‘No, I will bat at the bada nets.’ I saw him face two or three balls in the nets for small boys (under-12) and immediately sent him to the nets for under-14. He looked good. Though he was small, he was hitting the stump-height balls also. Iqbal asked Prithvi to avoid the cut shot. I was convinced of his talent and hence convinced Javedbhai (of Rizvi Springfield) to admit him as a student in Class III.”
In the school, Prithivi played in different age-groups and met with enormous success. “He picked up the fundamentals and acquired the techniques very fast. He had learnt his first lessons of batting with Santosh (Pingulkar). His first match for the school was in a tournament organised by the District Sports Officer (DSO). During those days a schoolboy was allowed to play the Giles and Harris any number of times, and Prithivi started to play in these tournaments from a very young age. He used to make quick runs... 30s and 40s in 12- or 15-over matches, and after two years he scored his first century in the DSO competition. He also made a lot of runs in the under-14 tournament, an MCA selection trial at the Worli Sports Club. In fact, Armaan Jaffer, Sarfaraz Khan and Prithvi scored heavily in the selection trials. It was in his last year in school that he scored 546. When these three batted, runs flowed for them and the team.”
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Mumbai’s junior cricket was brimming with batsmen who showed skill and flair and the capacity to score big runs and Pathak noticed a healthy competition between Armaan, Sarfaraz and Prithvi, who alone scored over 30 centuries across different age-group tournaments. “Prithvi was god’s gift. One could not stop him. I advised him to refrain from playing shots in which he seemed vulnerable. But he went about playing his own way. He used to practise a lot. Even when he was staying in Virar, he was never late for practice or for a match. He never played for himself, always for the team. Things began to change for the better when he scored three centuries in the K. C. Mahindra under-19 selection trial tournament. Uske baadh usne maarna chalu kiya. This was some months before the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup. When other boys used to take 100 balls to pick up things, Prithvi used to do it in 20 balls. He scored a lot of runs in Club cricket, in the Kanga League and other tournaments. But all said and done, I never thought he would play so soon for India. All three, Aramaan, Sarfaraz and Prithvi, had the talent; but the first two were trained, while Prithvi, as I said, was god’s gift, he did not need much counselling or advice. He had a bit of luck, too; he was dismissed off a no-ball when on 99 on his Ranji debut. He then started getting centuries in Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy and India ‘A’; there was no let up in his appetite to score runs.”
While Pathak kept watching Prithvi’s remarkable rise in junior cricket, a politician, Sanjay Potnis (Shiv Sena corporator), put an end to the young cricketer’s struggles of travelling from Virar to Bandra for practice and playing matches at different grounds in the city. He provided Prithvi with a house at Santa Cruz and also playing facilities. “Travelling time bach gaya na ! Initially, the school looked after his expenses, then the MIG Cricket Club took over. He never had major financial constraints as he got help from people. He also went to England for two or three years and benefited a lot from playing there. Well, I know a bit of Prithivi, he’s come a long way. It was unfortunate that he was injured and was not able to take part in the Test series in Australia.
“I will finish this conversation saying this about Prithvi. He liked aloo bhujia and never shared it with anyone. That was his meal. Then he started liking soup and chicken fried rice. When he scored a hundred or a double, he would ask me for soup and chicken fried rice. His dad was always with him; maybe that’s stopped now. Of course these days he is travelling. Now it looks like a thagda injury; that’s why he couldn’t play. But the baccha is playing well, katham ho gayi baath . He was with the school and me for 10-12 years and has now reached a level where he has to look after his cricket,’’ trailed off Pathak.
Even while he was at Rizvi Springfield, Prithvi’s father enrolled him at the MIG Cricket Club’s academy in Bandra to improve his training. There father and son met Prashant Shetty, a BCCI Level II coach. Prithvi was 10 years old and from 2009 he spent many years at the MIG Academy and the Club.
The occasion to join the MIG set-up came when Prithivi was playing for the Bombay Gymkhana under-13 against MIG under-13. “We knew he was a special talent and gave him all opportunities. We had to make a correction in his ‘static stance’ position, otherwise he looked extremely good. He already had good onside strokes and we told him how correction of the ‘static stance’ in relation to the backleg movement would widen his range of shots on the onside,” Shetty said.
In about six months, Prithvi moved from the under-12 nets to the under-16 nets and even trained with the MIG ‘B’ and Senior teams. “While the other boys would bat for 20 minutes, Prithvi would bat for an hour and a half to two hours. It would have been unfair on our part to give him only 20 minutes. It was our senior coach Kiran Mokashi (former Mumbai off-spinner) who suggested that Prithivi bat in the ‘A’ team nets. He was small and we did not want to rush him, for fear of him getting injured with the big boys between 26 and 28 years of age bowling at him. We had a meeting with the MIG committee, told the fast bowlers not to bowl bouncers and told Prithvi to wear a chest guard. Prithvi also adjusted with the bat speed. He played for the club’s B team (Parel Sporting) and got a century. In fact we chalked out a programme for him. Once Sachin Tendulkar saw him at the nets, and told us that he would play for India. Prithvi’s father wanted to know what Sachin had said, but we did not reveal it to him. The lad became fearless after he got a good grounding at the academy and started playing for the club teams. After spending about eight years, he moved to the CCI and from there to P. V. Shetty’s club, Parkophene. Even before going to Australia, he practised at the club with Sachin (Tendulkar) bowling to him with wet balls on a trampoline. Prithivi was special,” said Shetty.
Mumbai cricket is filled with fascinating stories, like Sunil Gavaskar’s rise from Chikalwadi and Sachin Tendulkar’s from Sahitya Sahawas in Bandra.
Prithvi’s tale started at the Virar Municipal Corporation Ground after an accidental meeting with Santosh Pingulkar, an aspiring coach who had returned to Virar after spending a few years in Aurangabad. “I was at the Nagar Palika (Municipal Corporation) Ground after meeting the officials to let me run a nets at the Corporation Ground, when I saw a three-year-old Prithvi hitting balls with an ordinary bat. He was playing with his father and I told him to take proper coaching. When he replied that other coaches had advised them to come after eight or ten years, I decided to make Prithvi my first academy student. Even at that age, he was not hitting cross-bat shots. I taught him the basics. He was in Virar till the age of 12 before moving to Santa Cruz. When he was eight, I told Raju Pathak to give him opportunities at Rizvi Springfield. But I never thought he would become a star so soon. He had natural talent though,” said Pingulkar.
After scoring a Test century on debut against the West Indies in Rajkot, Prithvi went to Virar to pray at the Jivdani Mata Temple.
“The Test match got over in three days and on the fourth day Prithvi was at Virar. He went to the temple with a few friends. He also keeps in touch with me,” said Pingulkar. Prithvi Shaw climbed up through the MCA and the BCCI’s junior and senior tournaments and then scored a match-winning unbeaten 120 on his Ranji Trophy debut against Tamil Nadu in Rajkot.
An explosive century in his first Test against the Windies marked his arrival in the big league. The ankle injury in Australia was unfortunate, but these are early days. And, as Raju Pathak said: “One has to look after himself at the top, and Prithvi has to do that.”
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