Prithvi Shaw's life changed on November 20, 2013, when he broke the record for the highest score in minor cricket in India, making 546 for Rizvi Springfield against St Francis D'Assisi in a Harris Shield match at Azad Maidan in Mumbai. He had just turned 14, and, as is routine in Mumbai cricket, he was quickly earmarked as one for future. Shaw, who led India to the Under-19 World Cup title earlier this year, has not disappointed those who predicted greater things. His biggest strength might be that he is not afraid to fail because he knows he has the skills to bounce back. Along with Mayank Agarwal, Shaw has been one a consistent run-maker for India A this season - in ten matches (four first-class and six List A games), he has made 759 runs, with four hundreds and two fifties, at an average of nearly 60.
Sunil Gavaskar, also from the Mumbai school of batting, declared that Shaw is now ready to play for India and should be picked for the tour of Australia later this year. Already there are murmurs that the young man could be part of the Indian squad for the final two matches of the ongoing Test series in England.
How did you start playing cricket?
Cricket came about for me when my dad started throwing plastic balls to me at home. I was four or five. Proper cricket came when I was seven, when I joined Rizvi Springfield School. My dad was keen on cricket and I would go along with him to watch matches in Mumbai. I used to sleep with my plastic bat at times.
It was not easy for us in the initial years. I would travel from Virar [an outlying suburb to the far north of Mumbai] to Churchgate to play matches and then to my school, which was in Bandra. The reporting time for matches was 8am. I would wake up by 4.30 and board the 6.15 or 6.19 local train. Sometimes when I did not get to play, I would be disappointed. It was tiring to commute to and fro for four hours, but I really enjoyed the train journeys, although, even that early in the morning it was very crowded. The train, in fact, would be already full before it even reached Virar because people would board a stop or two before their own to get a seat [on the trip downtown]. That is how the journey started and I just kept going.
What was the first turning point of your career?
The 546 I scored was really big for me and my dad. That match took place at Azad Maidan, which is quite large. You don't get boundaries that easily and I did not have that kind of power to deliver big hits. We ran four runs many times. I don't how many runs I ran, but I was patient and disciplined throughout that innings.
Did things change from there on?
The TV cameras came. It was across newspapers, so, yes, I was in the limelight. From there on, I started working hard. I knew I had to be consistent if I wanted to play for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy.
You made your Ranji debut at 16 for Mumbai in the 2016-17 season and now you have played two seasons. What have you learnt from the domestic tournaments you have played?
When I got my call-up for Mumbai, for the Ranji Trophy semi-final against Tamil Nadu, I was a bit surprised. About two weeks before that I was in Sri Lanka with the India U-19 team, winning the Asia Cup. I was not expecting a call from the Mumbai selectors. I got 120 in the second innings.
Again, last season I scored some runs, which came at the back of the century I made in the Duleep Trophy.
I have learned a lot playing in domestic first-class cricket: how to score runs, how to counter situations. I am an attacking batsman, but I've learned a lot about patience. There are clever bowlers who can pick your weak points, so I have to be a bit patient, play out a spell or two. Controlling myself was the biggest learning point.
Do you have an example of a time where you had to balance your natural attacking game and give respect to the bowler?
The Duleep Trophy match against India Blue was a good example. The Lucknow wicket was a turner. It was a five-day match but the spinner came into play as early as the sixth over. It was turning a lot, but being a Mumbai player, I was comfortable with the pitch, which was made of red soil. I was brought up playing on turning tracks on Azad and Cross Maidans, so it was like playing at home. I was waiting for the loose ball. I have never shown such patience at the wicket [Shaw batted for six hours and 19 minutes for his first-innings 154]. I wouldn't say it was easy to bat on, but I knew the right way to control the situation on that wicket.
What are your strengths as a batsman?
I actually like to play my shots, even in four-day matches. I try to make runs, keep the scoreboard moving. That keeps my confidence up. Playing attacking shots is my strength. Sometimes when the bowler is on top, obviously there will be some spell when he will be in control, but when I think I can play some shots, I just go for it.
Where do you get that mental confidence to dominate bowlers?
Once you graduate from U-19 to the next level, it is a more mental game. You do need the technical skills, but it is more mental. That is what I have learned after talking to Rahul Sir [Dravid]. Makarand Sir [Makarand Waingankar, veteran journalist], who has been mentoring me from a young age, says the same.
What do you think of when you face a ball?
I don't think of anything when the ball comes to me. I just play the ball on merit. I keep my mind blank.
What is your favourite shot?
The cover drive.
On the India A tour of England, you made two List A hundreds and a first-class century against West Indies A. Can you tell us more about that last innings?
I was just waiting to bat to my strengths and convert the loose balls into boundaries. That allowed me to play my natural game. I got a duck in the first innings - bowled by a good ball, which I couldn't do anything about. The wicket was favourable for the quick bowlers and West Indies A had some good ones. In the second innings I didn't waste any time. I saw off the good spells while taking on the bowler at the other end to keep the scoreboard pressure on them.
"I would wake up by 4.30 and board the 6.15 or 6.19 train. Sometimes when I did not get to play, I would be disappointed. It was tiring to commute for four hours, but I enjoyed the train journey"
In the following match, against England Lions, you were out for 62 in the first innings. Were you disappointed about failing to convert a good start?
I was a bit disappointed because two to three (top-order) wickets had fallen quickly. They were bowling quite well - Sam Curran, [Jamie] Porter, Chris Woakes, [Matthew] Fisher. I just wanted to play the initial spells and had a bit of a partnership with Ajinkya [Rahane] bhai. We were just talking about being patient. I really tried my best before I nicked one.
Wasn't the delivery that got you out flat and wide?
Curran was bowling from round the wicket. You would expect the ball to come in. That ball was pitched on the fourth stump and went straight. The seam was on the inner side but the ball held its line. I attempted a defensive shot and nicked.
When you looked at the ball on the video later, did you think you could have done anything different?
I don't know what else I could have done. It was a playable delivery. It could have come in as well.
On the first day of the match, Alastair Cook scored 180. You were standing in the slips for most of his innings. Did you enjoy watching him from up close?
I really loved the way he built that innings. He showed how to play Test cricket. Watching him live, watching him stay patient, session after session, waiting for the loose ball, was a good experience for me. I wanted to see what he does differently and watching him do what he did made understand why he is so good.
One reason for your good form on the tour was your familiarity with England. Tell us about your first trip there.
I was 12 years old when I first travelled to England. Nilesh Kulkarni Sir came to see me off to Manchester. The trip was part of the Cricket Beyond Boundaries programme, run by [British-born Indian surgeon] Samir Pathak . He sponsored my trip, which involved me staying in Manchester for four months. I attended the Cheadle Hulme School. I stayed with a local English couple, who were my guardians. I really loved the experience, being in a new country, in a new culture, studying things that were new to me and playing in totally different conditions and wickets.
When I went there, I could barely speak English, and it was very difficult for me to understand the local accent in Manchester. My English got better when I was there, since I was talking to everyone in English.
The following year, in 2014, I played for three months in the Yorkshire League [for Cleethorpes] and later a few matches for the Gloucestershire 2nd XI.
Rahul Dravid said you have improved continuously. What are the areas in which you think you have got better?
I just try to be as patient as I can be, especially in four-day cricket. I try to be more mentally strong. I try to retain my focus when I go in to bat. I try to switch on and off on the field. You cannot be switched on all the time. Dravid Sir keeps things positive during training, during matches. As a player it gives me the confidence that your coach is backing you.
You have spoken about mental discipline. Is mental preparation the key to playing at the higher levels?
When you play a high level of cricket, everyone has their own skill and technique. What matters is how mentally prepared you are to play the game. Patience will get me big runs. Rahul Sir just told me one important thing: Play as many balls as you can. Don't think about the runs that you score. With my strike rate being good, he said I can always score once I have played enough balls. That made me change my mindset. He said this before the tour of England.
What has Ricky Ponting, your coach at Delhi Daredevils, said about your batting?
He, too, talked about how to build an innings. He just said to play my natural game, pick the situation when to hit and when not to. T20 is a very quick game, so you just have to go and execute what you plan in the practice sessions. That is what he stressed on.
Sunil Gavaskar recently said that Prithvi Shaw is now ready to play for India.
One of my friends sent me a screenshot of that from social media. When I read it, I just thought I am very blessed that Sunil Sir is praising me. I will try to not let him down. I am not thinking of playing for India. You never know. I just have to keep grabbing the opportunities and scoring runs. I should be really focusing on each and not thinking too far ahead.
Do you still sleep with your bat?
Not anymore (chuckles).