It was a good defensive shot to start the Test series. Against a rising delivery from Mitchell Starc, Prithvi Shaw got on the top of ball and met it with the full face of the bat. It took only one more ball to expose what Ricky Ponting called Shaw’s “chink in the armour.”
Shaw attempted a similar stroke but this time it was to an in-swinger from the left-handed pacer that also moved in after pitching. Playing on the rise, there was a gap between Shaw’s bat and pad and he was late in getting his front foot in line. The result: an inside edge and Shaw, 21, getting the first duck of his five-Test career.
Going into his first Test in Australia, Shaw had one century and had two fifty-plus scores. The team management’s trust in him — at the expense of KL Rahul and Shubman Gill — thus was understandable. “I think it is very exciting to see his progress as well. It is exciting to have young guys in the field, you can literally tell them to enjoy their skillsets in the middle,” India captain Virat Kohli had said in the in the pre-match presser while speaking about Shaw.
But with the competition within the team rising, the question is: how long would the management persist with Shaw given that some of his frailties are common knowledge. As coach of the Delhi Capitals in IPL 2020, Ponting has seen Shaw’s struggles through the tournament from close quarters. Moments before Shaw’s dismissal, off the second ball of the first Test in Adelaide on Thursday, Ponting said: “He has got a little chink in his armour. I think it’s the ball that comes back into him. He is very comfortable playing the ball away from his body. He does get his head in the line of the ball, plays under his eyes but he doesn’t commit his front foot in the line of the ball a lot. Quite often he leaves a big gap between bat and pad. The Aussies will target that.”
This was not the first time on this tour that Shaw was dismissed while driving to the moving ball. In the first innings of the second tour match in Sydney, just ahead of this Test, Shaw got out similarly to Will Sutherland. To one that moved in, the bat-pad gap was enough for the ball to sneak in and rattle Shaw’s stumps.
“It (Adelaide) was not a flat pitch where you can just come and start playing your shots. It is a pitch where you have to give yourself enough time. The fast bowlers will have help throughout,” Cheteshwar Pujara said after the first day’s play. That was why Pujara and Virat Kohli epitomised patience during their stay at the crease. Both edged fast bowlers on a number of occasions but the ball did not carry to the fielders because they played with soft hands. They took time to settle down and did not poke at every ball. It is a lesson Shaw would do well to learn soon.
Shaw will get another opportunity in the second innings but checking his instincts, will be the key because Gill is waiting. “Shubman has not gotten opportunities at this level yet in Test cricket. As and when he gets an opportunity, it would be interesting to see how he goes about things because he is a very confident young man,” Kohli had said about the Punjab batter who is Shaw’s age.
Shaw is no stranger to successful comebacks. He missed India’s 2018-19 Australia tour due to an ankle injury and in 2019, had to serve an eight-month doping ban. In his first match on return, Shaw scored a half-century. The challenge is tougher his time, but Pravin Amre, who has seen Shaw rise from the Mumbai maidans, said: “It’s still Day 1. Maybe we can talk about him after the Test ends.”