There was something poetic about Shikhar Dhawan and Prithvi Shaw opening the batting in the first ODI in Colombo against Sri Lanka. The two Delhi Capitals (DC) stars have developed into a pivotal opening pair for their IPL team, but it was the first time they were beginning an Indian innings in ODIs together.
Poetic because it was the future of India’s first powerplay batting meeting its past and present and leaving us awe-struck with an exhibition of amazing skill and intent. Dhawan has been a fantastic top-order batsman in ODIs for India, with an incredible body of work across multiple ICC events. But with him approaching what could well be his last World Cup cycle, Shaw’s entry to the scene gives India a possible upgrade for the role that the experienced left-hander could play at his best.
It was an injured Dhawan whom Shaw had replaced early last year in New Zealand for his maiden ODI series. And even though he didn’t get a substantial score, Shaw gave India quickfire starts in conditions where high-scoring games made it necessary that the visitors provided their bowlers some extra cushion. None of his three scores went past 40, but Shaw maintained a strike-rate of over 102.
That series gave a glimpse into Prithvi Shaw’s potential future for India, which looks brighter as a top-order maverick in the white-ball arena than it does in the Test match world. Despite him showing an improved technique during the IPL earlier this year, there is conviction in the belief that the Test match game perhaps poses a challenge too difficult for Shaw to manage around his issues.
At 21, it’s not that Shaw can’t improve his technique and make it tighter. But a brief look into his last six Test innings reflects multiple problems. Shaw has gotten out out twice to balls leaving him, twice to those coming in and two times facing the line aimed for his head. If he covers one flaw, over time the other is likely to still stand exposed and the cycle will repeat itself.
At a time when Test match tracks are extremely demanding and Test match attacks deeper than ever before, it is likely that Prithvi Shaw would never be able to dominate in the whites for India. But the limited-overs game has always been kinder to technical failings and is more so now when pitches are flatter and only a rare few bowlers extract swing movement out of the white Kookaburra.
For their next ODI series after New Zealand – in Australia in November last year – India did not persist with Prithvi Shaw and instead retained his partner from the Kiwi tour, Mayank Agarwal, to face the Aussies in Rohit Sharma’s absence. But while Agarwal too played the role of an aggressor quite selflessly in Sydney, one couldn’t help but think it should’ve been the younger Shaw handling the top-order responsibilities. Especially when the format he did feature in Down Under was never suited to his style of play.
India playing Prithvi Shaw in that D/N Test in Adelaide was asking too much of the youngster. Those two morale denting dismissals and unending question marks that followed on his technique could’ve been avoided by channelising his strengths where they are likely to bear more fruits for him and the country. Leaving Shaw from the ODI series, even if it was after a poor IPL in UAE, was an error that denied him some good opportunities to build on that New Zealand tour.
Once he returned from Down Under to play the white-ball game, Prithvi Shaw absolutely destroyed bowling attacks for Mumbai in the Vijay Hazare Trophy and carried his excellent form into the IPL 2021 for Delhi. It came as no surprise for those who have followed Shaw’s career closely, for he has always looked too good for domestic and IPL attacks but has found the international game a tough place to conquer so far. That, mostly because India have been tempting fate with him in the Test match game rather than letting him prosper with time and experience in the white-ball arena.
Not just skill, it is a strong temperament as well that makes Prithvi Shaw ideally suited for the top-order aggressor’s role. Apart from his approach, that is one aspect that makes him similar to Virender Sehwag. Sehwag’s unfazed attitude, team-driven personality and unwavering support of the team management allowed him to make a huge impact on matches at the top.
Shaw is from the same mould. Why he never looked to buy some form back at DC’s expense during the IPL last season. Shaw stuck to his role wholeheartedly, even if it meant he was foregoing chances to get himself back to scoring ways. It cost him an ODI series in Australia but would’ve earned him his teammates’ respect at Delhi.
Cricket rewards you in mysterious ways for your good deeds and this tour of Sri Lanka is perhaps a reward only for Prithvi Shaw’s hardwork and attitude. With no Rohit and Mayank around, he knows he is playing all six games.
And that assurance, clarity and confidence were evident in the way he batted against Chameera and Udana with the new ball. Shaw hit Udana for a flurry of boundaries in Viru-esque fashion through the off-side. Full length or short, he was ready to pounce on even the slightest of errors and cream the ball through the in-field. Shaw played only 24 of the 520 balls that were delivered on the day and yet ended up receiving the ‘Player of the Match’, for such was the impact of his innings in the Indian run-chase.
What the commentators recognised, the selectors and the team management should as well and give Prithvi Shaw all the confidence he needs to fulfil his talent in the limited-overs game. The T20 World Cup is understandably their immediate priority – and for that too, Shaw is a strong candidate – but they must shrewdly keep him in the 50-over mix even when all the first-choice picks are around. It’ll help in not too distant future when your Rohits and the Dhawans aren’t around.
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