On January 5, 2016, around noon, Pranav Dhanawade dragged himself into the K. C. Gandhi English School changing-room and told his coach, Harish Sharma: "Sir, I'm really very tired. Can we declare?" It was the second day of a two-day Under-16 match against Arya Gurukul at the Union Cricket Academy ground on the outskirts of Mumbai. The 15-year-old Dhanawade was unbeaten on 980, and K. C. Gandhi were 1,337 for three. "I told him as soon as he crossed 1,000 I would declare," says Sharma.
Dhanawade soon hit three consecutive sixes to gallop from 982 to four figures. Sharma was dealing with a media scrum and, by the time he had extricated himself and signalled the declaration, 1,000 had become 1,009 - the highest individual score in any cricket. In fact, the record had already fallen the previous evening, when Dhanawade finished on 652, eclipsing A. E. J. Collins's 628 not out for Clark's House against North Town in a junior house match at Clifton College, Bristol, in June 1899. Gandhi's eventual 1,465 for three was another record, for the highest total in all cricket, beating Victoria's 1,107 against New South Wales at Melbourne in December 1926.
Dhanawade's mind-boggling innings lasted 396 minutes, and took just 327 deliveries. He hit 59 sixes, 130 fours (one of them all run), four threes, 24 twos and 75 singles; there were 26 dot balls, and nine deliveries went in the extras basket. He used two bats. The first had been an old favourite, but it was worn out and splintered, and broke when he was on 200. He then picked one of the spares from the school kit bag - and carried on. The onslaught had started at 11.14 on January 4, when K. C. Gandhi began their reply to Arya Gurukul's first-innings 31. At lunch, he had 60 from 22 balls; at tea, 355 from 116; at stumps, 652 from 199. His feat quickly went viral.
Huge scores have become a familiar part of Mumbai schools cricket. The much-chronicled unbroken 664-run stand between Sachin Tendulkar (then 14) and Vinod Kambli came in the Lord Harris Shield in February 1988 at the famous Azad Maidan. In November 2013, at the same ground, Prithvi Shaw made 546, going past Arman Jaffer's pair of quadruples (498 in December 2010 and 473 in February 2013). Dhanawade's innings came a month after Rahul Dravid, delivering the M. A. K. Pataudi Memorial lecture, had spoken about the pointlessness of scoring big hundreds while other kids, some taking a day off school, look on, vainly awaiting their chance. But logic does not always come into it - and Dhanawade had an enthusiastic coach.
Sharma had long resented the fact that cricketers from suburbs such as Dhanawade's Kalyan were ignored by the Mumbai Cricket Association and mainstream media. Sharma, a club-standard left-arm spinner in the late 1980s, recollects how he and his friends would be treated as gaonwallahs (from the villages) by the coaches, other clubs, players and the MCA. So when Dhanawade left the field on the first evening, Sharma sowed in his mind the thought of 1,000. "Yes, 652 was indeed a big score," he says. "But I wanted him to score a record that for 100 years no one - importantly, no Mumbaiwallah- could break. I wanted to open everyone's eyes, including MCA."
A leafy borough, Kalyan is about 25 miles by road from downtown Mumbai; even a fast local train takes about an hour to get there. Mumbaikars consider Kalyan a separate city, and the feeling is mutual. The cricketing infrastructure is modest, and reports of Dhanawade's achievement drew attention to the size of the ground. The pitch was a standard 22 yards, with the straighter boundaries pulled in - though still long enough for schoolkids. It was the square boundaries that were unusually short; one newspaper measured them at just 32 yards. But Sharma insists he asked Dhanawade not to hit square, encouraging him to score in the V. "Of the 59 sixes, hardly ten to 12 might have been over the square boundaries," he says. "Otherwise he hit all straight boundaries."
Dhanawade looks his age: 5ft 5in, with a lean body and a pencil-thin moustache. "Because of his power, people felt the opposite team is weak," says Mobin Shaikh, his coach at Modern CC. "He is only 15. He has not done any age-fudging." Dhanawade had not played schools cricket for three years -and had been used by Shaikh as a tailender - until Sharma asked him to open. He made 80 in his first game; this was his seventh.
Even as he was shattering records, he was asked by the Arya Gurukul bowlers why there was no declaration. One of them, Ayush Dubey - ten years old and 4ft 4in - told the Indian Express. "I said: Bas kar na. Aur kitna marega? (How many more will you hit?). But he asked me to go back, and said: Ja, ja bowling kar. Aur bahut maarna hai (Go and bowl. I have to hit a lot more)." Dubey returned his side's best figures: two for 350 from 23 overs; Sarth Salunke had 20-0-284-0. Neither would have been playing had school rules not prevented older students from taking part, so they could focus on their studies in the run-up to exams. For Dubey and Salunke, both used to bowling with smaller balls, holding a normal-sized ball was not easy.
Was it, as Arya Gurukul's coach Yogesh Jagtap argues, amismatch? Sharma disagrees. "The same team which had those four or five senior players they said were missing against us, lost their first match of the quarter-final league phase against S. V. Joshi School very badly. So how can you say if the boys who were missing would have made a difference?" Against K. C. Gandhi, Arya Gurukul went down by an innings and 1,382 runs.
For Dhanawade and his lower-middle-class family, life changed overnight. Praise flooded in, including from M. S. Dhoni, who said his effort should not be rubbished; Sachin Tendulkar sent a signed bat, the MCA awarded him a monthly stipend to fund his education for the next five years, and numerous kit sponsors provided equipment. Dhanawade wants to play for Mumbai Under-19 in 2016-17. As for the record, he is confident no one can break it."If anyone does it, it should be an Indian," he says with a smile.