Great start, but a long way to go for Prithvi Shaw

Prithvi Shaw
Prithvi Shaw became the youngest Indian to score a Test hundred on debut. AFP
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Hands punched the air and the helmet came off showing the young face break into a wide grin. A word of gratitude to the Almighty and raising of the bat to acknowledge the cheers from the dressing room, where his skipper stood up to show his appreciation for the achievement. Accolades came flying thick and fast even as statisticians worked overtime to estimate the number of new records that were set while this feat was achieved. Followers of the game in the country savoured the moment by watching repeatedly the strokes that flowed from the blade of the bat of the young debutant. A new star was born on the Indian cricketing firmament on October 4, 2018.

Tipped to be a star

Prithvi Shaw had been marked out as a cricketer who belonged to the big league ever since he led India to a victory in the ICC under-19 World Cup at New Zealand early this year. He had shot into the limelight when he scored a mammoth 546 for his school in the local Harris Shield Trophy match in 2013. He hit a century on his debut in Ranji Trophy in January, 2017, and then repeated that feat when he first played in a Duleep Trophy match eight months later. He made his bow in Indian Premier League in 2018 and adapted to the requirements of the shortest version of the game with ease. He was asked to join the Indian team touring England during the summer of 2018 when Murali Vijay was flown back on account of bad form, but did not get an opportunity to play in a Test match in that series. Finally, when he was awarded the Test cap, he decided to celebrate that in style by hitting a scintillating century that have made critics sing his praises.

Dream debut
Prithvi Shaw came up with a special knock on his debut. PTI

Even as the nation was celebrating the arrival of the young star, one’s mind went to the 14 Indian batsmen who scored a century on their Test debut, before Shaw. The first was the great Lala Amarnath, who hit a swashbuckling ton in the first ever Test match played in India, at Mumbai in 1933. However, a series of controversies that dogged him through his career and the Second World War together ensured that this highly talented, yet temperamental cricketer played only in 24 Tests, where he could not score another century.

Amarnath was followed by Deepak Shodhan, a stylish right- hand batsman who hit a century against Pakistan at Kolkata in 1952. Then came A G Kripal Singh who scored an unbeaten 100 against New Zealand in 1955. The only silver lining of the tour to England in 1959 where India was outplayed 0-5 was the century struck by debutant Abbas Ali Baig, then studying in Oxford University in the Test match at Manchester. Hanumant Singh joined this elite club in 1964 when he made 104 runs on his Test debut against England.

However, like Lala Amarnath, none of the four centurions on debut could get to the coveted three figure mark in Test cricket afterwards. Indian cricket fans had started taking this hoodoo so seriously that they grew worried when Gundappa Viswanath struck a century on debut against Australia in 1969 and did not score another one during the next three years. Finally Viswanath broke this jinx by hitting 113 against England at Mumbai in 1973 and followed this with 12 more centuries before he exited international cricket in 1983.

Surinder Amarnath followed in the footsteps of his father by hitting 124 on his Test debut against New Zealand at Auckland in 1976. However, he could not fulfil his early promise and faded away from the horizon without ever scoring another century in Test matches. Mohamed Azharuddin, who made his entry into Test cricket in 1984 started his career with a rare hat-trick, hitting centuries in his first three Tests, a record that remains unsurpassed till date. Azharuddin evolved into one of the leading batsmen in international cricket, especially in the limited overs version and went on to play for the country till the turn of the century.

Among the 15 centuries on test debut that are recounted here, five were struck outside India and out of them four were in matches played outside the Indian sub continent. where the conditions are far more challenging for the batsmen. When one examines each innings, it would emerge that the century made by Pravin Amre in his first Test at Durban was scored in the most difficult circumstances. India were touring South Africa in 1992 for the first time ever, the hosts had a excellent line up of fast bowlers led by Allan Donald who ran through the top order of Indian batting when Amre walked in to take strike. However, he steadied the Indian innings and kept it together with a excellent knock of 103 that saved the visitors the blushes of a defeat in that match. However, as fate would have it, he was not destined to score another ton in international cricket and faded away after playing in only 11 Tests.

Sourav Ganguly was part of the Indian side that toured Australia in 1991-92, but could make his Test debut only five years later during the visit to England in 1996. He grabbed this opportunity with both hands and struck an elegant century at Lords that showcased his immense potential. Ganguly grew in stature as the best left-handed batsman to have donned India colours besides earning a well deserved reputation as an aggressive skipper who moulded the national side into a tough and combative unit.

Virender Sehwag started his playing days as a middle order batsman and made his entry into Test cricket at Bloemfontein against South Africa in 2001. India were on the back foot after losing four wickets for 68 runs when he joined Sachin Tendulkar at the wicket. His batting blossomed in the company of the great Tendulkar and they added 220 runs for the fifth wicket with Sehwag playing a supporting role, probably for the only time in his career! Sehwag scored 105 runs in this innings off 272 balls, a very sedate innings by his standards. However, he was asked by his captain Ganguly to open the innings and this paved the way for being recognised as the most explosive opening batman in contemporary cricket. Sehwag ended his career with many records to his credit, including the one for being the first Indian to score a triple hundred in Test cricket.

Suresh Raina made his Test debut in in 2010, exactly five years after donning the national colours in limited overs cricket. Unlike One-Day Internationals, where he was dismissed in his first match without scoring, Raina lit up the stadium at Colombo on his debut hitting a stroke-filled century. Though this gave rise to the hope that he would cement his place in the national squad in the longer version of the game, Raina could not build on this good beginning. His career fluttered as his technical deficiencies when playing high quality pace and seam bowling were exposed during tours of England and Australia that followed. Though his playing days are not over, it is difficult, at this point of time, to see him score another Test hundred.

Shikhar Dhawan first played for India in Tests in 2013, a good nine years after he made his bow in first class cricket. But he set the ground on fire in his very first outing hitting a quick-fire century that came off only 85 balls, a record for the fastest ton on debut. Dhawan carried his flamboyance to the crease every time he took strike. While this approach helped to produce some scintillating knocks, there was also the imminent risk of loss of an early wicket whenever he went out to bat. Incidentally Shaw has taken the place vacated by Dhawan, who had a very poor outing against England during the five-Test series and thus faced the axe.

Rohit Sharma was the last Indian before Shaw to score a Test ton on debut. He smashed 177 against the West Indies at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 2013. Rohit too has not been able to translate his great success in the shorter versions of the game to the ongest format and finds himself out of the Indian Test team.

Shaw was fortunate in being able to start his Test career in the easiest of surroundings - on an easy-paced pitch that offered no help to bowlers and against an attack that lacked any venom and bite. However, he should remember that sterner tests await him when the team tours Australia during this winter. The wickets there would be hard and bouncy and the bowlers would probe his technique to the maximum extent possible, while there would be no shortage of mind games either. He can consider himself to have made the grade only when he survives these tougher challenges.

(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)

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