"I still remember each of moment of the meeting with Tendulkar Sir," says wonderkid Pranav Dhanawade
5th January, 2016.
Kalyan is a rather small town about 58kms away from CSMT in Mumbai.
It is a very low-profile but highly-populated place. However, hardly before had the town witnessed such surveillance.
Pranav Dhanawade, one of their own, was unbeaten at 652 runs against Arya Gurukulam in the first day of their two-day match. Dhanawade was representing K.C Gandhi school, which is quite prominent in Kalyan for their cricketing prowess. He joined K.C Gandhi in 5th Grade as it is one of the handful schools in that region, which offers regular cricket practice. Their school team has bagged many inter-school trophies and Dhanawade was one of their star players at that point in time. Currently, though, he studies in R.J Jhunjhunwala College.
After having come to bat on the first day of the match, Dhanawade was keen to register a big score. He admits that his coach was quite angry at him for being unable to convert half-centuries into triple figures.
Dhanawade took this opportunity well and settled into the crease. He was playing his natural game, scoring runs at will and dominating the opposition's bowling attack. However, after the end of first day's play, Dhanawade was on the verge of creating history.
He had the chance of becoming the first person to notch a four-digit score in an innings of competitive cricket. Accordingly, the media houses gathered at the ground to witness history being made. There was a lot of hustle and bustle near the ground that day.
The reporters were extensively covering a what would otherwise have been an irrelevant school match. Every single run that Dhanawade took attracted great applause from the audience.
School matches in Mumbai are usually played with relatively lesser coverage. Only the crucial games from Harris Shield and Giles Shield are covered quite well by the journalists. Moreover, in Kalyan, it was even lesser. Even the parents of cricketers did not show up to watch their kids play regularly. This time, it was different.
Pranav Dhanawade had become an overnight sensation out of nowhere.
When asked whether the growing media coverage put any pressure on him, he said, “Not really. My coach did not say much after the end of the first day’s play. I was finding batting a bit easier as I got into the second day. So I continued with the same approach from the previous day.
I played my regular shots and even when I was in 990s, I completed my 1000th run through a boundary. The celebration amongst people was immense.”
Why wouldn’t it be?
Mumbai’s cricket circuit is dominated by Rizvi Springfield and other schools from the main city. As one comes towards Thane and beyond, the facilities for cricket are comparatively poor.
Dhanawade said, “I’d be honest with you. Even now, we practice in regular wickets where the mud starts breaking down after a few overs of practice. It is really difficult to keep up and match levels with the ones playing from the hub of the city.
Our school restricted practice time for two hours a day so that we can manage our studies. Comparatively, schools like Rizvi allow their players to play throughout the day and hence provide them with good coaches, facilities to train and opportunities to play in big tournaments.”
However, that day, he crossed the barriers and created a world record by scoring 1000 runs in a single innings of a recognized form of cricket. The joy was supreme and the felicitation was even better.
“MCA had organized a ceremony to congratulate me. Former players like Pravin Amre and Madhav Apte were present and they all were really appreciative of me at that time. They even provided me the amount for the monthly scholarship at that time.”
Regardless of this, the biggest moment of appreciation was from his idol. Someone because of whom Pranav had started playing the game. Sachin Tendulkar invited him to his house in Bandra. Tendulkar was abroad when Dhanawade achieved this unique feat.
However, he had sent a bat from his own personal collection to Pranav. After arriving in India, Raj Thackrey arranged for a meeting between both of them. “Ah, that day was unbelievable. I still remember each of moment of that specific meeting. Tendulkar Sir was really welcoming, as he congratulated me but a lot of discussion was regarding how to continue playing well.
He asked me to ignore the media attention and solely focus on my game. He said that it was important for me to maintain consistency in my game, to ensure that I kept scoring runs and brought myself under the consideration for selection.”
So, what happened then? Was it the constant media pressure? He doesn’t think so.
Dhanawade said, “I actually never paid much attention to it. Yeah, initially it was overwhelming. But, later I realized that I should better focus on improving my game as there were many technical deficiencies that needed to be resurrected. The constant rumours surrounding about my comparison with Arjun Tendulkar’s selection was unbelievable. It added more pressure at times because all of it was untrue.
“The selection for West Zone team was done before my innings of 1000 runs. Moreover, I can’t understand the comparison either. He is a fast bowling all-rounder and I am a wicket-keeping batsman. How is our selection related to each other at all? Also, one can play for the West Zone team only after having represented the state team. I hadn’t even played for Mumbai at that time.”
This era of Whatsapp forwards has somewhat dented Dhanawade too. He has been subject to various topics of inaccurate discussions, something that annoys him at times.
After a poor 2017 in terms of performances, Pranav’s coach and father decided to ask MCA to discontinue the monthly scholarship amount. It was a surprising decision but Dhanawade said, “I was not scoring a lot of runs. I needed a lot of training and not the money. Maybe, some help on the cricketing front from the MCA could have helped me more. The coach said that if I am not scoring regular runs, then it would be better to not take the money.”
There was a sudden uproar in the media after this. However, things calmed down and Pranav got back to working on cricket. “I improved my fitness during the offseason. Coach sent me to Just Cricket Academy in Bangalore where they detected and made me improve on the technical flaws in my game too.
I went to England for a league competition and playing there was a surreal experience. Different conditions taught me about adaptability and different facets of the game.”
Asked whether he has gotten over with the comparisons with Arjun Tendulkar, Pranav laughed and said, “Oh of course! I and Arjun have known each other since 2011 when we used to practice at the MIG Club in Bandra. We still stay in touch.”
Pranav Dhanawade shot to fame quite early into his career. He faced difficult years ahead where he was unable to back up that innings with consistent performances. However, the best thing about him is his honesty and the ability to accept his mistakes. Belonging from a really humble belonging, he does not refrain from calling out his mistakes either.
Sure, the social media coverage might have put him into a scanner. But, right now, he is practising regularly with the college and club teams to give himself a chance for selection. Maybe, staying away from the attention would help him after a rather mixed last three years.