Prithvi Shaw didn't really need to be an unwitting part of a mini controversy to be in conversation right now. The month of July was anyway going to be a big one as he makes a return to international cricket, but if it is true that the Test team in England made a late demand that he be flown in from Sri Lanka, it just tells him the team management values him despite his wildly fluctuating stock in international cricket.
From being hailed as Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Virender Sehwag rolled in one to being dropped after one Test in Australia and " feeling worthless", from a difficult childhood to being labelled as the one with attitude problems, Shaw has seen a lot at the young age of 21. He is already a Player of the Series in Tests, an IPL finalist, an away Border-Gavaskar Trophy winner, and someone whom a whisper campaign forever surrounds to question his fitness and attitude.
Not that it was his choice, but it is tempting to wonder where Shaw would have wanted to be. Be the big dog and open in testing conditions against the Dukes ball in Test cricket against James Anderson and Stuart Broad or stake a claim for a T20 World Cup slot through the less-scrutinised limited-overs series against a troubled Sri Lankan side.
The decision has been made for Shaw. He is to stay in Sri Lanka for three ODIs and three T20Is. For the assignment he has been reunited with his Under-19 and India A coach Rahul Dravid. Since having been dropped from the India side, Shaw has had a chat with Sachin Tendulkar, the only Indian younger than Shaw to score a Test century.
What Shaw does is a tricky job. Opening the innings has never been tougher in Test cricket. Bowling attacks are getting stronger and home sides are preparing pitches to support them. If you have the slightest flaw, they exploit it ruthlessly. Shortly after a sensational debut at home, it was apparent in New Zealand and Australia that he tended to play just with his hands, and his feet tended to be late. This can happen to touch players when the ball moves a lot. The same minimal foot movement that opens up the off side for them begins to trouble them. Sehwag before Shaw is a prime example.
In six away innings, Shaw made 102 runs and was dismissed twice each to balls that left him, came back in and were aimed at his upper half. On the surface, that tells you bowlers have a lot to work with. That is perhaps why he didn't even get a second Test in Australia. This is not to say his game is broken. What he has faced is some high-quality bowling in challenging conditions, which will always test a batter who goes at the strike rate that Shaw does. Whatever it is, Shaw can do worse than consultation with Tendulkar and then some time with Dravid if he indeed needs to change his game.
Right now, though, those conditions are not going to be in his way till the South Africa tour. Right now there is limited-overs cricket to tackle. In limited-overs games, where opening the innings is the easier job than batting later on, Shaw is unlike Indian openers before him. Since his debut in April 2018, Shaw's strike rate of 150.19 is well clear of any other Indian opener in T20 cricket. He has not scored anywhere near the number of runs the other three regular openers, but that is the modern logic: if you bat slower, you actually hurt your team more the longer you bat. Even when he was struggling, in last year's IPL, he didn't try to buy form at the team's cost.
In List A cricket, Shaw strikes at 124.98 per 100 balls while averaging 58.18. Shaw has hardly played any ODIs; to compare him against India openers would be unfair because the others hardly play domestic List A matches, but again Shaw is well clear of competition in his field. In fact only one other opener since Shaw's debut, Ishan Kishan, has scored at better than run a ball, only barely so, in List A cricket in India.
If he can translate the IPL and Vijay Hazare numbers to the international stage, Shaw is the game-changer that can take India's limited-overs cricket to the next level. He has been in red-hot form too. Nobody scored more or faster than Shaw in the Vijay Hazare Trophy this year. Three batters have scored more runs than his 308 in the first half of the IPL but nobody in the top 20 has gone faster.
It is important he keeps playing the formats and doesn't lose the form that, in Delhi Capitals' coach Ricky Ponting's words, keeps him in the nets to just bat and bat and bat. Dravid and the national selectors will be watching, and also keeping an eye will be the senior team management from England.