It was Prithvi Shaw’s day in Rajkot as his 134 helped India dominate West Indies on Day One of the first Test. Patrick Noone analyses the debutant’s maiden Test innings.
If any doubts lingered that Prithvi Shaw was not ready for Test cricket, they were swiftly put to bed with his first two scoring shots of the day. After letting the first ball of the day through to the wicket-keeper, the next delivery from Shannon Gabriel was fractionally – critically – shorter, allowing Shaw to rock back and lace it through the covers for three runs.
In the next over, Shaw faced an even shorter ball from Keemo Paul and punished it, carving it to the point boundary with an authority and disdain that made a mockery of his status as a debutant. Shaw was up and running and that area would prove to be a favourite of his – the cut shot and late cut combined brought him 40 runs from just 28 shots, including eight of his 19 boundaries.
Those two shots set the tone for the first two sessions as Shaw galloped to a 99-ball century, becoming the second Indian opener after Shikhar Dhawan – the man whose place in the team Shaw had taken – to score a century on his Test debut. As impressively as Shaw was batting, it was hard to not feel a pang of sympathy for the man he had replaced at the top of the Indian batting order. A benign track and an under-strength West Indies bowling attack is a world away from James Anderson and Stuart Broad firing down the swinging, seaming Duke’s ball in English conditions.
But that is to take nothing away from Shaw’s innings. His was a wonderfully paced knock; he attacked 54% of the balls he faced on his way to his hundred before reducing that aggression to 43% once the milestone had been reached and the platform had been built. Shaw left just 10 balls throughout his innings, a figure that equates to 6% of the 154 balls he faced. Since 2006, when Test match openers face 100 or more balls in an innings, they leave the ball 18% of the time, on average.
One of the reasons for Shaw’s low leave percentage was his willingness to play attacking shots to balls outside his off-stump. Light on his feet, Shaw responded to the West Indies seamers’ shorter length by playing consistently on the back foot. 42% of the balls he played against seam were on the back foot, far higher than the average of 27% for Indian batsmen in India. This is partly thanks to Shaw’s stature – he is 5’4” tall – meaning that rocking back is perhaps more natural than coming forward, but it owes a lot to where Shaw sees his scoring areas. By setting himself on the back foot, he was able to free his arms and play those cut shots, leading to 47 of the 65 runs he scored against seam coming through the off-side.
Shaw was far from an unknown quantity even before his eye-catching debut. His exploits in the U19 World Cup and the IPL meant that his was one of the most anticipated debuts in recent years. It would therefore be inaccurate to say that India have unearthed a gem in Shaw. Unearthing implies that he was ever a hidden talent, that he was ever not the next star in waiting. India haven’t unearthed a gem – they’ve just put him on display, and invited the world to admire him. If today’s innings is anything to go by, Shaw is a gem who will sparkle for many years to come.
Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.