Sri Lanka put their faith in Kasun Rajitha for the second ODI as India bustled to pocket the series and fasten the zipper. Making space was Isuru Udana, who splurged 27 runs off a dozen balls in the campaign opener thanks to Prithvi Shaw’s nonchalant belligerence. The swap, however, was rendered ineffective as Shaw creamed a hat-trick of boundaries in Rajitha’s very first over. Shikhar Dhawan matched the youngster shot for shot, peeling off another triplet in the next.
A beefy bounty in the bag, India could afford to drop a gear and limit themselves to percentage cricket en route 276, but the swashbuckler in Shaw protested and flung that old chestnut into the trashcan. Why pause when you can press fast forward? Wanindu Hasaranga’s wrong’ un was met with an overambitious square cut and the zing bails came to life, radiating a furious red as if to intimate Shaw of the perils of getting ahead of oneself.
Shaw might be cut some slack for having misread the googly, but his mode of dismissal on the weekend was simply beyond the realms of cricketing logic. Nine boundaries laden with breathtaking panache had jostled him to 43 off 22 balls before he copped a bouncer from Dushmantha Chameera flush on the lid; the neck protector went airborne and physios sprang into action. Given a thumbs up, Shaw would go on to commit harakiri to follow the bunch of attenders yet to settle into their seats in the dressing room.
Brief spells of vigilance often ensue a blow to the head. Batsmen try and gather their motor skills, exercise a bit of restraint and ease their way into the zone of optimal functioning they were in prior to the concussion injury. Nonetheless, Shaw defied the norm straightaway, with his tawdry swipe across the line to part-timer Dhananjaya de Silva landing in long-on’s lap. India were sitting pretty at 58/0 five overs into a chase of 263. You’ve just been dinged on the helmet and there’s a man waiting on the fence. Strap in, and there’s a maiden ODI hundred up for grabs. Alas, the devil on his left shoulder triumphed over the angel on the right in a battle of wits.
It is easy to get carried away when you possess talent by the truckloads as Shaw does. Though Sri Lanka were guilty of overcooking their lengths once in a while, a chunk of his scoring strokes came off deliveries ticking the definition of a good ball. The buzzword for Shaw is transfer of weight rather than a pronounced front-foot stride. He holds his shape nice and still, allows the ball to come to him and then assigns the dazzling duo of supple wrists and pristine hand-eye coordination to discharge its duties. Shaw is blessed in abundance with the riches of timing and placement, but at the international level, it’s all about being the master of and not a slave to your genius.
Champion players revel in the art of abstinence. Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma were free-wheeling dashers at heart who managed to calibrate the tempo of their operation to become the ODI behemoths they are. Fresh off a prolific Vijay Hazare stint that reaped a record 827 runs in 8 knocks, decorated with a 227* of which 154 runs were fetched through fours and sixes, Shaw’s exuberance tells him that he can pull off such a brand of ruthless hyper-aggression against Sri Lanka as well. After all, theirs is a bowling attack woefully light on potency and direction. Why not stamp your authority and cudgel boundary after boundary until the islanders collapse to their feet? Err, that school of thought would only take you so far, as has been the case with Shaw hitherto on tour.
To his credit, he blazed off to a flier in both innings, but the instinct to kill and kill at all costs paved his downfall. Imagine the end-product if Shaw’s uni-dimensional madness is complemented by method, one that worships the golden virtues of strike-rotation and situational awareness. To excel in an Indian shirt, Shaw ought to, at times, give the opposition the respect it deserves, even if it means avoiding the temptation to scratch at his itch to accelerate. Otherwise, the thirties bug would sting the wunderkind into the game’s folklore boasting of countless tales of unrealized potential.
The white-ball sojourn to Sri Lanka is an integral building block of India’s roster for the upcoming T20 World Cup. It’s a chance of a lifetime for the fringe pool to rise and shine, with many a member of India’s limited-overs squad occupied in England. Given the scarcity of opportunities, Shaw has to be kicking himself for twice not being able to convert flourishing starts into something of a statement. With an unassailable 2-nil lead in the kitty, India would ideally utilize the dead rubber to welcome on board the likes of Devdutt Padikkal or Ruturaj Gaikwad, possibly at the expense of Shaw, who flattered to deceive when it mattered the most.
It’s quite natural that Shaw’s unabashed confidence and lethal aesthetics usher comparisons with Virender Sehwag, the stand-and-deliver assassin from the wilds of Najafgarh. The driving force behind Viru’s audacity was the safety net offered by Saurav Ganguly in terms of selection. Will Shaw enjoy similar privileges in the current regime? Nope. Save for the earnest investment in Rishabh Pant, a ‘perform or perish’ dynamic is prevalent at the moment. Keeping in mind India’s stark raving mad bench strength, it’s ill-advised to take one’s place for granted, and Shaw has been around for long to know better. A sprinkle of sensibility on top of the dollop of class is the need of the hour for an Indian superstar in the making.