If you looked closely you probably could have seen pigs fly. It was that kind of an afternoon.
At the barren, brown, run-down Union Cricket Academy ground in the Mumbai suburb of Kalyan on Tuesday, a 15-year-old schoolboy was retelling the story of cricket in the most audacious way. With every hit to the boundary, Pranav Dhanawade was hurrying towards history. He had already started the day on 652, as the highest run scorer in an innings in any form of cricket; by lunch he had made 921. Unassuming, determined and surprisingly free of nerves in cricket’s completely unchartered territory, at around 3 pm Dhanawade heaved the ball over the bowler’s head for a six to bring up his 1000.
A thousand runs, by an individual, in a single innings. “It’s been a very good day,” was how Dhanawade chose to describe it to me. “It’s not something that I was aiming for. But I just kept playing my shots and it happened. After I had scored 652 runs in the previous day I was mentally prepared to go for a 1000.”
“Right now, I am very tired,” he added. It had been a long day, of showing the physical and mental fortitude to score a 1000 plus runs, of people mobbing and congratulating him; of being at the centre of an impromptu party of sweets distributed on his behalf and then his first taste of a media marathon.
Opening the innings for his team KC Gandhi English High School in the HT Bhandari Cup inter-school tournament, Dhanawade, the wicketkeeper-batsman, notched up an unbeaten 1009 off 323 balls, a number it may take some time getting used to. He spent six and a half hours at the crease, hitting 129 boundaries and 59 sixes. That’s 870 runs scored just from fours and sixes—354 off just sixes alone.
Most world records happen in a steady progression as athletes and the tools of their trade evolve. But Dhanawade is an anomaly. He annihilated a record that had stood for 116 years: Arthur Collins of Clark’s House scoring 628 not out against North Town in schools cricket in England in 1899. Moreover, his personal best had been 152 while playing a club match, hardly a precursor for things to come.
“No one really saw this coming,” says his coach Mobin Sheikh, who has been coaching Dhanawade since the boy was six.
“Pranav in fact was one of the naughtiest boys at the club (Modern Cricket Academy, Kalyan),” Sheikh said. “About a month back I scolded him; I told him if he didn’t take his cricket seriously he would end up being the scorer. He called me two days later and said he was sorry and that he wanted to come back and play at the academy.”
There is no better way in which Dhanawade, the son of an auto-rickshaw driver, could have convinced his coach of how serious his intentions were.
His 1009 not out saw his team post a total of 1465 for three. They bowled out the opposition, Arya Gurukul School, for 31 in the first innings and 52 in the second, scripting a historic win of an innings and 1382 runs.
The scoreboard reflected the ample gap in class between the two teams. With the Standard X exams approaching, the principal of Arya Gurukul had refused permission to the school’s under-16 squad to skip classes for the match.
No one could have predicted things to go that bad for Arya Gurukul, but sending the under-14s out for an U-16 tournament meant that they were the designated lambs to the slaughter.
They were sloppy with the ball and in the field, giving Dhanawade multiple lives to carry on his rampage. He was further helped by the short boundaries: 30 yards on the side and 60 straight ahead. There is a case of looking at the innings through these filters, but the sheer weight of that number, 1000, crushes that argument.
India’s limited-overs skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, in a press conference on Tuesday, said: “It’s not a joke to score so many runs. It is serious business in any conditions and ground keeping in mind the age. It’s tremendous, it is important to improve. He must be a very special kid. I would have gotten bored.”
Fifteen is the age of distraction, not of history-making concentration.
But Mumbai cricket has a habit of throwing teenage legends. In February 1988, a certain Sachin Tendulkar and his mate Vinod Kambli surfaced with a record stand of 664 runs. Tendulkar scored 329 not out and Kambli 349 not out for their school Shardashram Vidyamandir. (Tendulkar was quick to acknowledge the innings on twitter, saying: Congrats #PranavDhanawade on being the first ever to score 1000 runs in an innings. Well done and work hard. You need to scale new peaks!)
Four years later, Wasim Jaffer knocked off an unbeaten 400 for Anjuman-e-Islam.
The past few years have seen a rash of teenage prodigies: Sarfraz Khan scored 439 in November 2009, Armaan Jaffer (Wasim’s nephew) scored 498 in December 2010 and Prithvi Shaw raised the bar further with 546 in November 2013, all while playing for Rizvi Springfield. The success in school cricket has been a stepping stone to greater things for all these players. While Tendulkar’s reign needs no further explanation, Kambli and Jaffer lorded over domestic cricket and had their moments on the international stage too. Sarfraz and Armaan are coming up through the junior ranks, and are part of the India Under-19 World Cup side.
The thing is that all of these batsmen have come from the bustling maidans of in the heart of Mumbai.
Dhanawade though comes from Kalyan, which is about 60km away and eternally in the shadow of Mumbai’s metropolis. His father is an auto-rickshaw driver, who has had to work extra shifts to make sure that Dhanawade’s cricket goes on smoothly, and mother is a small-time caterer. While there is genuine talent and interest in the game in the area, they don’t have the facilities and structure that Mumbai’s youngsters enjoy.
“I wouldn’t say that his background has made him more resilient, but it definitely has given him a sense of responsibility,” says his school coach Harish Sharma.
It has been a tough job for Dhanawade to stand out in the crowd, given Mumbai’s long and storied batting tradition. The distance alone is energy-sapping as he has to travel for two hours just to get to the city and play for his club: MIG, Bandra. Even as he was in search of an eye-catching knock, it was Sharma who gave him the necessary space to do so.
“He has always been a very aggressive batsman, clean hitter,” says Sharma. “He would get 70s and 80s while batting at number 5. But we promoted him up the order, thinking that if he is given more time at the crease he can hit the really big hundreds.”
Given that freedom, he hit a really big hundred that not just Mumbai cricket bigwigs but the entire world was forced to take notice of. His historic innings is bound to give him a fast-track entry into Mumbai’s age-group set-up, but what Sheikh was more pleased about was that the youngster didn’t rest on his laurels.
“Even after scoring a thousand runs, he came back to keep wickets,” says Sheikh proudly. “He knew that was his job.”
In sports, there are numbers and there are numbers. Roger Bannister running the first sub-four minute mile in 1954, Sergey Bubka becoming the first man to vault over six meters in July 1985, Jim Hines breaking the 10 second-barrier with a 9.9 second sprint to the 100m finish line in June 1968. All of them redefined human limits.
Dhanawade’s 1009 may not be on par with those icons as far as the scale of achievement, proportional to the stage of performance, goes. But in the course of less than seven hours on the pitch, he has pushed his sport into a new realm of possibility.
And what happened to Arthur Collins, who was born in Hazaribagh, and moved to England to study at Clifton College? He was a natural athlete—he played rugby, cricket, and won medals for boxing. He joined the army in 1902, and was killed in the very first year of the First World War, in the battlefields of Ypres, France.