Match Analysis

Prithvi Shaw's 'rare talent' lights up the IPL

The Delhi Capitals batter hit six fours in an over and went on to 'shell-shock' Kolkata Knight Riders

Saurabh Somani
The first time Prithvi Shaw batted in a senior competitive match after his much-dissected failure on India's tour of Australia, he hit 105* off 89 for Mumbai against Delhi in the 50-overs Vijay Hazare competition. Since then, including that knock, Shaw has gone on an absolute tear: 105* off 89, 34 off 38, 227* off 152, 36 off 30, 2 off 5, 185* off 123, 165 off 122, 73 off 39, 72 off 38, 2 off 5, 32 off 17, 7 off 5, 53 off 39, 21 off 18, and 82 off 41.
Apart from the number of balls faced on certain occasions, you almost can't make out whether those scores came in a T20 match or a 50 overs one. It's been about half and half, eight List A games and seven IPL matches, with Shaw having reeled off 1000-plus runs in two months. Since that Australia tour, his tally across formats stands at 1096 in 15 innings from just 761 balls. All the worries about the incoming ball, his trigger movement, and his poor form in Australia have been left behind in a blaze of runs, first for Mumbai and then for Delhi Capitals.
In their season opener, against Chennai Super Kings, after Shaw flattened them with a 38-ball 72, Ricky Ponting had asked him in the change-room whether he had ever batted better in an IPL game. The question was rhetorical, the Capitals coach believed that was the best he'd seen Shaw bat in the tournament. Then he went on to ask what Shaw was thinking during the innings. "Nothing," was the answer - an answer Ponting liked because it told him there was clarity in Shaw's mind and he wasn't thinking of anything else when in the middle. Three weeks since that knock, Ponting might have to revise his opinion on Shaw's best IPL innings, because the 82 off 41 against Kolkata Knight Riders had to be right up there too.
This was a Shaw throwback to his prodigy days, a comparison made more apt because the bowler who started against him was the man he had captained often at Under-19 level, Shivam Mavi. Shaw seemed to be able to read the bowler's mind, even as Mavi looked bereft of ideas in a 25-run opening over. It might be the only time a bowler looks back fondly at a wide, because his first ball was so far down legside, Shaw couldn't get bat on it. He got bat on each of the other six, and each one flew to the boundary.
"I wasn't thinking anything to be honest," Shaw told Star Sports after the game. "I was just waiting for the loose balls, because even if it's the first ball, I'm going to hit it. I knew where Shivam is going to bowl because we have played for four-five years now, so I knew exactly where he is going to bowl to me. So I was ready for it and with my instincts I just went for it."
Not thinking extraneous thoughts. Going on instinct. Preternatural awareness of what the bowler would do. And the skill to pull it off. This was an innings that started off with the best of Shaw, and continued in that vein.
It left Brendon McCullum gushing too. The Knight riders coach, who at his best played with a similar mindset and skillset, spoke of how Shaw's innings was "the perfect template" for what he wanted his side to do. He also acknowledged how a 25-run first over in the Capitals' chase had knocked the wind out of his team.
"It was a huge psychological blow from Prithvi Shaw," McCullum said. "I have an immense amount of respect for Prithvi because not too many people in world cricket play the game with that sort of approach. You've got to give kudos as well to Rishabh Pant and Ricky Ponting and the Delhi Capitals management that they've been able to ask a player to bat like that, and for him to buy into it. He's a rare talent, he put us under an immense amount of pressure early.
"It was a big blow for us but we should have still been able to come back. You shouldn't be shell-shocked in one over and not be able to respond to it, but we were tonight. And that's going to ask some tough questions of us. But I won't stress, I thought Prithvi Shaw was outstanding, played a wonderful innings and he deserves the accolades."
In between his Australia tour and the return to runs, Shaw spent a well-documented few days with Pravin Amre to rediscover his touch. Along with his bat swing though, Shaw seems to have found a balance in his mind too.
"I feel my dad has supported me very well. After getting dropped from the Australia tour, I was really not happy with myself, that 'What am I doing?' And my dad just said to play my natural game, work hard on it," Shaw said. "When talent is not getting you what you want, just work hard and get that back again. These words really set a target for me and I worked hard after that. Obviously, in cricket, the graph is going to be up and down for sure. Lots of failures are going to come in my career, but I'm not really thinking about that. Just going day by day."
That batters fail more than they succeed is a fact of cricketing life. It's even more stark in T20 cricket. If Shaw can hold on to that balanced process of treating triumph and disaster just the same even when the lows arrive, you'd venture to say that the failures may come, but they won't stay.

Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo