Fate works in a funny way - sometimes it is the doing of an individual, a Karmic intervention perhaps, and at other times, it is the case of things falling into place just like that. We don’t know much about that but Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill right now have become two sides of the same coin.
It is not easy to be a cricketer in Mumbai. The cut-throat competition, struggle for relevance and long train rides make it a case in point where young kids are accustomed to a life of fighting for their place. In contrast, it is also easy to be a cricketer in Mumbai, for it is the place to make a name for yourself and you have the advantage of always being on the radar as compared to most of your contemporaries from other states. Think of Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, Rohit Sharma and it is an unending list. Somehow, it keeps you on your toes and a failure or two up front will be dealt with talks of nepotism, biasness and what not.
The moment Prithvi Shaw was picked in the national team in the mid-way of the 2018 England tour, it was only relevant that he was not welcomed with open arms. For Mayank Agarwal had been the most prolific batsman there ever was on the domestic circuit in the past two years -he was making a mockery of the Domestic circuit - and so everyone was just left wondering “What the f*** just happened?” In the following tour, which also saw Agarwal’s first stint in the Indian dressing room, Shaw latched onto the opportunity, scored a flawless century and then a fifty against West Indies to send the Karnataka opener down the pecking order.
As mediocre the Windies bowling was, now the Indian fans had forgotten their appeal and moved on with the Shaw-mania for the Aussie tour. Things seemed bleak for Agarwal and surely, for another opener from Punjab’s Fazilka. Shubman Gill, who was plundering runs for Punjab like plucking apples in a garden, had left Yuvraj Singh awestruck with his quality but was nowhere close to being picked in the national team.
An era has passed in between - Agarwal pounced on the opportunity, scored runs everywhere he played, registered two double centuries for India and has now become one of the first names on the team sheet. However, the debate surrounding Gill and Shaw is nowhere close to being settled despite the Wellington Test being Shaw’s first red-ball game for India after that 10-wicket Windies mauling in Hyderabad. It rose to a whole new level after the Mumbaikar failed to cash in on the twin opportunities given to him at the Basin Reserve by playing one shot too many or disrespecting the Kiwi bowling attack by just operating in only two gears. Twitter was losing its cool and the call for the inclusion of Gill is now more than ever.
The Mumbaikar started on a positive note on the first day of the Wellington Test but was squared up by a Tim Southee outswinger. The dismissal not only brought questions about his technique but also of mindset for he never cared to tamper his style to counter the difficult conditions. By playing most of the shots away from his body with hard hands, Shaw brought stamina to the equation but he, in fact, cramped up the onside - which he is never the greatest of ideas in New Zealand. Murali Vijay, for all his technical stubbornness, suffered the same fate in the swinging conditions and Tim Southee is too good a bowler not to have predicted that against Shaw. The less we talk about his second innings dismissal - a leading edge - the better, and Twitter went on a meltdown.
But is it fair? Sure enough, Shubman Gill will feel hard done by the fact that he was always there but never been picked. But wasn’t it only fair Shaw gets the first preference after scoring a double century on the first Ranji Trophy game post the conclusion of his ban period? Wasn’t Gill in the team because Shaw couldn’t have been there in the first place, however 'unfair' it was? This is the first prerequisite, albeit for no fault of Gill, but an important one anyway.
That Gill did well to hang in there and scored a lot of runs on the A circuit definitely needs to be taken into consideration and a first-class average of 73.55 after 21 matches is something that is colossal in its own right. But from KL Rahul to Rishabh Pant, from Ambati Rayudu to Vijay Shankar, we have stories of how preconceived notions take deep root in this team management and how quick are they to make someone a star overnight before putting them in a place no cricketer wants to be in. Jettisoning Shaw for his contemporary may give India short-term success but what will be the basis in the first place? Are you just only correcting a wrong that you committed 15 months ago or is it desperation to get the fortune in order?
In a game that saw India, in either of the innings, failing to cross past Angelo Mathews’ individual score at the same venue a year ago, finding an escape route to drop a 21-year-old is the most cowardice act ever and I can only hope Virat Kohli won't go down that route. The captain struggled to put his bat to away-swinger, the team’s most dependable batsman was in a shell after playing even 80 balls and in such a situation, the worst thing that the team management can do is to show Shaw the exit door. It has nothing to do with Shubman Gill’s talent - something that I have been always appreciative about - but it is about preserving it in cotton wool before getting the already-placed boy to see it through.
Shaw is a fine batsman and one of the very best talents available in the country right now. However, by getting injured far too often and his self-inflicted downfall with the intake of prohibited cough-syrup, the Indian opener has done himself a bad PR which will not die down unless he settles them with a lot of runs in every match he plays. He has shown glimpses of that in the ongoing tour and if he is counseled properly, don’t be surprised seeing him turning the table upside down and rising to become the hottest batsman in the side.
Anything other than that will only go on to show the team’s lack of succession planning and their very inability to judge a situation. The lack of it had already seen a player of Rishabh Pant’s ability being thrown under the bus, with his talent getting questioned. Can they afford to make the same mistake once again? Understanding this is as important as those 60 Championship points on offer and of course, the loud ambition of setting a legacy for the years to come.