What it takes to be a whizz-kid in cricket. The amazing story of Pranav Dhanawade
Lhendup G Bhutia | 13 Jan, 2016
One late afternoon, on the last day of 2015 to be specific, a bright auto-rickshaw shot through Kalyan’s haphazard lanes and the Mumbai suburb’s narrow highway to reach a playground where a local cricket coaching camp was being held. Inside the three-wheeler, the conversation, like always, had veered towards cricket. Two schoolboys, 15-year- old Pranav Dhanawade and his friend, were discussing a local match they had watched when their senior companions joined in. Mobin Shaikh, a Central Bank of India employee who doubles up as a local cricket coach and was travelling with them that day to conduct the camp, had something to ask of Pranav: “Doosro ke baare mein sirf baat karega? Ya khud kuchh karega? (Will you keep talking about others? Or will you do something yourself?)” It was a taunt. “Cricketer banega ki scorer? (Will you become a cricketer or a scorer?)” he mocked.
Before the young boy could come up with an answer, an even sterner voice emerged from the front. The driver, Pranav’s father Prashant Dhanawade, had been listening and Shaikh’s dismissive words had worked him into a rage.“Kay wicket fekun yeto, kay faayda aahe ka?” he spat, with years of frustration over his son’s talent tumbling out. “Khelaicha aahe toh career banwachya sathi khel.” (Why do you throw away your wicket every time? What’s the gain? If you want to play cricket, play to make a career.)
Right from the age of five, Pranav had been groomed by his auto-rickshaw driver father, with Shaikh’s support, as a wicketkeeper-batsman. But in the past few months, the period during which Pranav had played several matches for his school, Smt KC Gandhi School, and club, Modern Cricket Club, it was becoming apparent to Prashant that perhaps his son was not as remarkable as he might have imagined. Pranav would come and hit a few quick runs. But he’d score only 70 or 80 runs and get out. In the previous match, he had scored 80 against a local school, Sri Ma Vidyalaya.
That afternoon in the auto-rickshaw, both Shaikh and Prashant gave the boy a piece of their mind. “Agar Wankhede mein khelna hai toh bada score maarna hoga (If you want to play in Wankhede stadium, you will have to make a big score),” Shaikh said, his earlier sternness now replaced by a paternal tone. Prashant was still upset and now unreasonably demanding. “Fifty, sixty, one hundred, two hundred,” he said, ratcheting up numbers with his eyes on the road. “Utne mein bhi kucch nahin hoga. (Even that will not do.)”
Through the rest of the journey, Prashant now recalls, Pranav did not speak a word. Four days after the conversation, on 4 January, as Prashant ferried a customer through Kalyan, he got a call from a friend. “Where are you?” the friend asked. “Your son is on 300 and he doesn’t look like he will stop.”
It was late afternoon and Shaikh had returned home after spending the day in office. The WhatsApp group he had created for his wards in Kalyan began to buzz with word of Pranav’s score. Shaikh took the next day off to watch the game. “I couldn’t believe it,” Shaikh says, now sitting on a couch in his living room, rubbing his eyes, either in mock disbelief or from a late night. “He was playing shots I had never seen him play.”
“How do I describe it?” he asks, trying to come up with an adequate metaphor. “[The scoring] was like a taxi meter. It just kept going up and up.”
Mumbai, its bustling maidans and old clubs, has for decades churned classical batsmen who play by what’s often called the Bombay School of Batsmanship. This tradition places emphasis on flawless technique, concentration, a hatred of giving away one’s wicket, and the ability to destroy bowling attacks. Some of its top exponents, like Vijay Merchant, Vijay Manjrekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar and Sachin Tendulkar, have dominated Indian and world cricket.
There is no better place to catch the birth of a Mumbai batting genius than in a local school game. In 1988, Sachin Tendulkar (then 14 years old) and Vinod Kambli announced their arrival as talents to watch out for by scoring a record- breaking 664-run partnership in a school match. Some years later, a 15-year-old Wasim Jaffer broke the record for India’s highest score in school cricket by scoring 400 not out (he didn’t make it big internationally, though). In the last few years, this record has been broken several times by young Mumbai prodigies. In 2009, the current India Under-19 cricketer Sarfaraz Khan, then only 12 years old, scored 439 in a Harris Shield Match. In 2010, Armaan Jaffer, Wasim’s nephew who has been widely tipped as the next great Indian batsman, scored 498 in a Giles Shield match. Three years ago, another batting prodigy and currently the Mumbai under-19 opener Prithvi Shaw, made 546 runs off 330 balls in a single day in a Harris Shield match in Azad Maidan.
But these prodigies came from the nerve-centres of Mumbai cricket like Shivaji Park and Azad Maidan. Around 60 km away from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is Kalyan, a geographical extremity in Mumbai cricket. For two days however, an unknown field there, Union Cricket Academy ground, shot into the limelight as Pranav Dhanawade became the first individual to breach the 1,000 run mark, a feat as inconceivable as perhaps unnecessary.
Typically, world records are broken bit by bit, gradually. Brian Lara’s world record of 375 Test runs stood for almost a decade until Hayden scored 380 in 2003 (later reclaimed by Lara when he scored 400). Saeed Anwar came closest to a double hundred in ODIs when he scored 194 runs in 1997, and then five cricketers surpassed that figure after 2010.
Pranav Dhanawade’s record is an anomaly, the sort of thing nobody would think of attempting. The record he broke, that of the highest score in any form and class of recognised cricket, belonged to an English boy named Arthur Collins who in 1899 scored 628 not out in an inter- school match. Pranav broke that number on the first day of the match in the inter- school HT Bhandari Cup. When he was finally done, batting for over six-and-a- half hours over two days, he had scored an unbeaten 1,009 off 323 deliveries, hit 129 boundaries and 59 sixes, and blocked only 26 balls. His team declared at 1,465 for three wickets after lunch on the second day. “He went ballistic that day,” Pranav’s cousin Saurabh Rajesh Pawar, who watched the entire match, says. “Everything he touched disappeared. It was that type of a day.” Recalls Prashant, “The two umpires later told me they had to get their arms massaged at night from all the fours and sixes they had to signal.”
Since then, Pranav’s feat has been hailed by several former and current cricketing greats. He has been offered a job at Air-India. The Mumbai Cricket Association has announced a monthly scholarship. And Sachin Tendulkar has sent him a cricket bat with a personal message.
On the morning of 4 January, a few minutes before the game began, Yogesh Jagtap, the coach of the opposing team Arya Gurukul, sought out Harish Sharma, the coach of Smt KC Gandhi School. Jagtap had spent all of last evening assembling a team. Most of his usual under-16 players, from classes 9 and 10, had not been allowed to play the game because of approaching examinations. And Jagtap, unwilling to call off the match, had got together a team of mostly 11- and 12-year-olds for an under-16 game. Four players were 13 years old, six of them were between 11 and 12, and the youngest was 10. Some of them were playing their first official game with a leather ball. “I told the coach (Harish Sharma) and his team, including Pranav, that we are here only for a formality. ‘Make about 300 or so and declare’,” Jagtap claims. “I told them don’t go on and on. My boys wouldn’t be able to take it. And they sort of agreed. I thought it was understood.”
By the time Arya Gurukul was all out for a paltry team score of 31 in 17 overs, Pranav, who normally bats lower down the order, was itching to have a go. Jagtap, who plays along with Pranav for Kalyan’s Modern Cricket Club, claims both he and Pranav’s coach were surprised when Pranav wanted to open Smt KC Gandhi School’s innings. “It was like a mere formality after all. My boys were too young. But Pranav was adamant. He was saying, ‘Even in the last match I couldn’t make much. I want to score a century today.’”
The carnage began right from the start. Ball after ball, the fielders were sent on a leather hunt. One of the team’s best bowlers, a 13-year-old Swapnil Deshmukh, had to keep wickets for most of the match lest, Jagtap feared, a younger boy might injure himself in that position. Pranav, meanwhile, went for the ground’s short boundaries (30 yards on the side and 60 straight ahead). And once he got going, he went on and on. “I kept asking him when he would declare,” Jagtap recalls. “When he made 100, he said ‘a little more.’ At 200, he would again motion as though to say ‘a little more.’ Finally, when he reached 652 runs, I presumed since he now had the world record of most runs, the team would declare.”
But the declaration was far from near. Pranav was acutely aware, as he later tells me, of the high scores his more recognised Mumbai contemporaries—Sarfaraz Khan (439 runs, 2009), Armaan Jaffer (498 runs, 2010) and Prithvi Shaw (546 runs, 2013) had made. After he crossed 400, his teammates began to google batting records on their cellphones and passed on the information to Pranav. As the 15-year- old continued to bat past 400, 500 and 600, eventually breaking the world record for the highest score in any recognised form of cricket, everything else—the taunts of his father, the jubilation around the ground, the quality of the opposition, Jagtap’s request for a quick finish—began to recede. Until eventually it was just a boy against a 1,000.
When Pranav kept batting on the second day, Jagtap realised what he was after. “He was really going after 1,000,” he says. After the declaration, Pranav’s teammates took a little over an hour to pack the opposition off for 52 runs. Arya Gurukul lost the match by an innings and 1,382 runs.
The other count being cited is of chances lost of taking Pranav’s wicket. Batting on 19, he had yielded a catch, but it was grassed. There were many other drops. According to Pranav, the fielders missed three or four chances, but Jagtap counted at least 22 dropped catches and three missed stumpings. Close to lunch on the second day, when Pranav had made 917 runs, the 22nd catch presented itself and the 13-year-old fielder at the long-on boundary appeared to have caught it, but in the excitement of finally having got Pranav out, he dropped it. According to Shaikh, while one can choose to examine the innings in this light—the poor quality of the opposition—the sheer weight of Pranav’s achievement, 1,000 runs in an innings, overshadows all else. A record is a record. “Nobody in the world has ever come close to 1,000 before,” he says.
On the second day of the match, the ground was filled with an unquiet anticipation. News of Pranav’s impending feat had got around. A large media contingent, neighbours and friends had arrived. At one point, an auto-rickshaw driven by Prashant’s friend emerged playing loud Hindi songs through enormous speakers.
At 921 runs, Pranav, now too exhausted to continue, wanted his team to declare the innings. But, goaded by the huge turnout and their expectations, Pranav’s coaches and teammates urged him to continue.
When he eventually returned home that night, having spent over five hours after the game fielding queries by journalists, he was incredibly tired. He even threw up at night before going to sleep. For the next two days, he ran a slight fever.
Several days after the match, the two- room apartment where Pranav and his parents live is filled with the smell of flowers. Real and plastic, these have taken over an entire room, crept through the doors, and now even hang—with the aid of clothes pegs—outside the house. An endless stream of long forgotten family friends, aspiring and small-time politicians appear through the day wanting to meet the young record holder.
But Pranav is away at the undisclosed home of a distant relative. Whenever the throng of visitors gets too large, he is brought home—but only for short intervals of time. “Who told you to score so much?” Saurabh Rajesh Pawar jokes with Pranav.
In Arya Gurukul, the team’s players were subjected to plenty of ridicule for conceding 1,465 runs. For the next two days, not just their classmates, but boys from other classes would seek them out for a laugh. “Our teachers and parents tried to encourage us. They said it was great that we never gave up and continued playing. But I hated it all. I hated the jokes about us,” says Swapnil Deshmukh, the wicketkeeper-captain who didn’t get to bowl much. In the match, he scored a pair of ducks, conceded 14 byes, and went for 80 off five overs when he took the pads off.
Two days after the match, Arya Gurukul took the field yet again against another school team. Neither was the coach dropped nor the team rejigged. A 13-year-old boy of class 9, the original wicketkeeper of the team, was made available, and Deshmukh was now free to bowl. The team lost yet again by an innings. They managed to score only 45 runs in the first innings and 65 runs in the second. But this time, both Deshmukh and Jagtap tell me proudly, they were able to take seven wickets. The opposition declared at 281 runs for seven wickets. Deshmukh took six of those.
The next day, a proud principal announced during the school’s morning assembly that the opposition had been able to score only 281 runs. And that Deshmukh had taken six wickets. “Everyone clapped so hard that morning,” Deshmukh says. “I think they were all so relieved.”