April 10, 2021 – Chennai Super Kings have set a target of 189 against the Delhi Capitals in the second game of the IPL 2021 season. Prithvi Shaw marks a middle stump guard and is ready to face D Chahar with a slightly open stance batting out of his crease.
Shaw is literally Deepak Chahar’s bunny in the IPL. The right-arm swing bowler has dismissed Shaw 5 times in 6 innings and is steaming in with two slips to make it 6 in 7. As he gathers to bowl, Shaw shuffles back and across towards the off-stump, gets behind the line of a gentle outswinger on middle stump and drives it crisply straight to the mid-on fielder.
‘Wicket Alert’ goes off in the Select Dugout show in Star Sports, as has been the case whenever Shaw came in to bat last season. Brian Lara in the Dugout Show was quick to acknowledge the changes in Prithvi’s batting. He talked about his back and across movement, feet movement and the head being closer to the ball at the point of impact. Prithvi went on to crack a 38 ball 72 helping DC chase the target. In the now postponed COVID hit 2021 IPL season, he has scored 308 runs from 8 games which is 80 more runs in 5 fewer matches compared to his forgettable 2020 season.
After that underwhelming 2020 season where the pacers beat both the edges of his bat for fun, Shaw was asked to open in the pink ball Test at Adelaide. He failed as everyone expected him to and spent the next 30 days on the sidelines watching the likes of Gill and Pant pull off a historic Test series victory for India in Australia. He was dropped from the Test team facing the touring England side in India and was asked to iron out the technical flaws in the domestic circuit.
Prithvi Shaw is a Mumbai based cricketer. He rose to fame with his record-breaking 546 in a Harris Shield match and hit a century on his Ranji debut for Mumbai. So it was expected that he would be bought by the Mumbai Indians franchise in the 2018 mega IPL Auction. But Delhi Daredevils (renamed as Delhi Capitals now) outbid the Ambani owned franchise and bought Shaw for 1.2 crores. He did deliver for them in his debut season, amassing 245 runs at a strike rate of 153.1.
Even though he hasn’t played up to his full potential for the franchise, they know how destructive Shaw could be on his days. Apart from one innings, the Delhi-based franchise has won every time Shaw scored 30 or more runs. As a dejected Shaw returned from the Australian tour, Delhi Capitals provided him support by asking their assistant coach Pravin Amre to iron out the flaws in his batting technique. What did they work on? Is it something related to his batting technique or fitness or something else?
Before knowing that let us shift back to 2018 when Delhi Capitals went by the name Delhi Daredevils sporting a cool red jersey instead of the boring bland blue one and Prithvi Shaw having a far less receding hairline than the one currently. In 2018, Shaw stood on leg-stump in his guard against the pacers & his back leg would move towards the legside right when the bowler is about to release the ball. It was peculiar, and his DC & India teammate Rishabh Pant had a similar issue.
Shaw would stay besides the line of the ball to create room and punish anything that has a bit of width on it. Since the back leg moves legside his front leg gets crossed over. This technique made him vulnerable against the incoming deliveries and short balls targeted at his body. He acknowledged this issue in an interview with Cricinfo in 2018 – “In the practice sessions, I tried to get the back foot across [and not down leg] but it’s not happening”.
Now coming back to that dreadful 2020 season, Shaw adopted a new back and across trigger movement to avoid the front leg getting crossed over. Apparently, the Indian team management and Shaw seemed to be working on this right from the time he was called into the Test squad as a replacement for Murali Vijay.
Shaw had a decent start to his 2020 season with a couple of 60s against CSK and KKR, but everything started to go downhill from thereon. The footwork became indecisive, he went all hands with his shots & one could fit a football in the gap between his bat and pad. So even a hint of movement troubled him, and the pacers found a lot of it in the UAE. He returned 3 ducks and some single-digit scores, most of them due to his technique and some due to the poor decisions players make when they are out of form. Experts criticised his lack of footwork and the big gap between the bat and pad. Some found it the best opportunity to blame his unconventional wide backlift while some ruled it out as a mental issue. Only a few offered some suggestions to make a course correction.
But Pravin Amre ignored all these preconceptions when he, Shaw and Rajinikanth(not the actor but the Strength and Conditioning coach of Delhi Capitals) assembled near Shivaji Park for a five-day camp ahead of the 2021 Vijay Hazare Trophy. Amre studied the videos of Shaw’s recent performances and noted down two issues. One, his footwork wasn’t decisive & two, his bat downswing came at an angle making him play away from his body. The unstable and indecisive footwork was a direct result of the back & across trigger movement he adopted. Trigger movements help batters achieve a well-balanced position to judge the line and length of the delivery early and transfer weight seamlessly. But if not executed properly, it will create a hell of a lot of issues.
Shaw in 2020 initiated his back and across movement only when the bowler landed his back leg which was too late especially against deliveries upwards of 140kmph. Now let’s make a little detour to Dravid’s email to Kevin Pietersen when the latter struggled against left-arm spinners in 2010. In that insightful message Dravid sent to KP, he mentioned how the brain will initiate the downswing once your front foot is planted.
The exact same thing happened in Shaw’s case as his front foot planted in his trigger movement, the downswing was initiated and before he could make a second movement towards the ball it was all too late. This was the reason behind his indecisive and imbalanced footwork. Now moving to the second issue, Shaw’s backlift has always been pointing towards gully but it came down straight during the downswing when he was on form. But in 2020, somehow the angle of the downswing came inside out and amplified the bat-pad gap which was already big with the lack of footwork. On top of it, the pacers found a lot more movement with the new ball in UAE which accentuated his downfall.
After the video analysis was done and the issues were known, Amre worked out some drills to help him present the full face of the bat on impact and to correct the timing of his trigger movement, while Rajinikanth Sivagnanam helped Shaw work on his fitness. After the five day camp, Shaw went straight to the Vijay Hazare Trophy and beat many records scoring 827 runs, the most in a single edition of the Vijay Hazare Trophy at a one and a half Bradmanesque average of 165.4.
Cut back to the 2021 IPL, Shaw now initiated his trigger movement when the bowler was halfway through his jump into the gather phase rather than when the bowler landed his back leg and the downswing came a lot straighter finishing with a high elbow that purists desire. During the 2018 to 2020 IPL seasons, Shaw tended to stay beside the line of the ball to create some room to free his arms. But he rightfully struggled when the ball came between the fourth stump to middle stump region cramping him for room. He averaged just 11.75 and struck at 116 when the ball was in that region between 2018 to 2020 IPL. With the changed trigger movement in 2021, Shaw set up his stance around middle and middle & off guard which provided him access to both sides of the wicket. In IPL 2021, he was never dismissed against the balls bowled in that region and struck at a rate of 148.
But the changes he made weren’t technical alone. Shaw of the old always liked to attack the ball and he would play the pull to deliveries that aren’t really pull-able or would resort to the slog when tied down. But in IPL 2021, he made a slight change to his batting approach. He brought out the check drives, ducked under the bouncers rather than taking them on as he used to do earlier and never played a single slog against the pacers. His attacking shot % in 2021 came down to 55 from 64 in the earlier seasons, but his average was doubled and his strike rate touched north of 200 while playing the attacking strokes. In short, he toned down his attacking approach and became a lot more effective with his attacking shots.
After that scintillating 72 against CSK in their season-opener Ponting applauded Shaw during the team meeting and asked him whether he played better than that ever in the IPL and what was he thinking when he was batting. Shaw’s answers were a simple “No” and “Nothing” which indicated the great mental space he was in. With all these changes, Shaw has looked completely dangerous prospect for the bowlers. He might not be at the top of the pecking order for the opening slot in T20Is for India with Rohit, Rahul, Dhawan and Kohli likely to occupy that position but if Prithvi maintains the same kind of form then he’ll be too hard to ignore for the selectors.
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