How scoring 1,009 turned one 15-year-old batsman's world around in cricket-obsessed India

By Oliver Holt For The Mail On Sunday

Pranav Dhanawade is greeted by friends upon his rare record. Photo / Getty
Pranav Dhanawade is greeted by friends upon his rare record. Photo / Getty

The semi-fast train to Kalyan pulls out of the shade of Mumbai's grand gothic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in mid-morning on another steamy, hot day.

There are no doors on the carriages and many of the passengers stand casually in the openings and lean out as the train speeds north, their hair blowing in the wind, staring at the city's teeming suburbs as they flash past.

After a couple of stops at immaculately kept stations, an earnest young man sits down and asks where I am from. His name is Sri and he is a law student at university in Mumbai.

He says it is his ambition to become a judge at the High Court in the magnificent building that towers over the Oval Maidan in the centre of the city. But what he really wants to talk about is the World T20 and cricket.

I tell him I am going to Kalyan to see Pranav Dhanawade, the 15-year-old schoolboy who scored 1,009 runs not out in one innings a couple of months ago and broke one of cricket's oldest and most famous records. Sri smiles. He has heard of Pranav.

He says he is known all over India now. He gets off at Dombivli, where the Mumbai suburbs start to be swallowed up by the lush green of rural India.

Kalyan is the next halt. The chaos outside the station is bewildering. Yellow and black auto-rickshaws line up in a gridlock of coughing engines, street-sellers haul huge bundles of packets of crisps around and the searing midday heat bounces off the pavements. I am looking for a man in a yellow shirt, one of Pranav's school coaches, Tushar Samani. He finds me first.

THOSE RECORDS IN FULL

Pranav Dhanawade's epic knock, which lasted 395 minutes, included 59 sixes and 129 fours.

KC Gandhi School declared their innings at 1,465 for 3, which is also a world record, with Pranav remaining at unbeaten 1009.

That total beat Victoria's 1107 against New South Wales made in 1926.

Arya Gurukul School were bowled out for 31 and 52 to be beaten by an innings and 1,382 runs.

The 15-year-old student broke a 116-year-old individual record after amassing 652 not out on the first of his two days at the crease.

At that time surpassed AEJ Collins's previous best of 628 not out. Collins had held the record since 1899 when playing for Clark House against North Town House at Clifton College.

Pranav also beat Prithvi Shaw's 546 - scored two years previously - which had previously been the highest individual score in any form of cricket in India.

Mumbai schoolboy Pranav Dhanawade poses with the scoreboard. Photo / STR/AFP/Getty Images
Mumbai schoolboy Pranav Dhanawade poses with the scoreboard. Photo / STR/AFP/Getty Images

It is only a two-minute drive to the KC Gandhi English School, where Pranav is a pupil in the 10th standard.

The security barrier opens on to a wide dusty schoolyard and the concrete school building. At the entrance, the school principal, Sainath Dhakane, is waiting with flowers for his visitor. In his office, staff bring vada, savoury fritters filled with lentils and chillis, and jugs of chilled water.

The school administrator, Jessy Jacob, talks about Pranav. The boy who played the greatest innings in the history of cricket - numerically at least - has become the school's star attraction and she remembers how their schoolyard filled up with television vans in the days after he broke the record.

Last month, she says, there were still posters of Pranav plastered on almost every street corner in Kalyan. She says he is academically gifted as well as being a fine cricketer.

She also says matter-of-factly that he is from a very poor family. His father, Prashant, drives an auto-rickshaw. 'I don't think they have digested what has happened to them yet,' she says. 'We hope Pranav will be able to keep going and reach the top and one day play for India.'

After a few minutes, Pranav is ushered in. He has had to get used to attention since he broke the record for the highest individual innings by a cricketer in an officially recorded match, which had been held since 1899 by AEJ Collins.

As a 13-year-old, Collins scored 628 not out over four afternoons when he was batting in a house match at Clifton College in Bristol. The young English boy was, in some ways, a child of privilege. Pranav is not.

My life has changed because of that innings. Before that, no one recognised me. No one knew that I was Pranav. Now, everybody knows who I am. A reporter from Wisden came to my house to write an article about me. Without that innings, my family could not have afforded to pay for me to go to college. Now, people have offered me help with my studies and with cricket.'

Pranav Dhanawade on how his life has changed following his world record score of 1009 not out

There is nothing outwardly remarkable about Pranav, nothing that foreshadows the fact that he smacked 59 sixes and 129 fours against Arya Gurukul School in a 327-ball innings that spanned January 4 and January 5 this year.

He is an unassuming, slightly shy kid of average build in a check shirt and jeans, whose face breaks into a beaming smile as soon as you mention what he achieved. 'My life has changed because of that innings,' he says. 'Before that, no one recognised me.

'No one knew that I was Pranav. Now, everybody knows who I am. Yes, yes. A reporter from Wisden came to my house to write an article about me.

'Now I have a better chance to achieve my dreams in cricket and play for India. I will have more coaching and I can continue my education after I finish my exams this month.

'Without that innings, my family could not have afforded to pay for me to go to college.
Now, people have offered me help with my studies and with cricket.'

Tushar says the odds are still 1,000-1 that Pranav will play for India. His main school coach, Harish Sharma, nods in agreement.

He has not been able to play for the school since he broke the world record because matches have been suspended during exams. He played twice for the local Modern Cricket Club in men's matches and scored 40 and 20.

But scoring 1,009 grabbed the attention of the authorities in this cricket-obsessed nation. He has been invited to play for one of Mumbai's A-grade teams, Worli Cricket Club. He has never left India before but he will go on a 10-match tour with Worli to England this summer.

The Mumbai Cricket Association have offered him 10,000 rupees (£106.30) a month to help with cricket coaching and his education.

It means he will be able to study commerce at college in Mumbai. Bat manufacturer SS has offered him free equipment for life and he is to be given regular coaching at a centre of excellence at Kalina, the home of Mumbai Cricket Club.

In one of the school corridors, there is a huge poster of Pranav, with the message: 'Congratulations Mast. Pranav Dhanawade on your epic knock of scoring 1009* runs unbeaten and creating an international record.' A sign on a landing reads: 'Knowledge is Power.'

When we get outside, he points to some tattered nets and rickety posts in a corner of the playground. 'I played there every morning from 6.30am to 8am at practice,' he says. 'I wanted to play all day. I love cricket. I know I have to give everything now I have this opportunity.'

In the afternoon, we drive the 10-minute journey to the place where Pranav made history. The Union Cricket Academy ground in Wayle Nagar is a rectangular patch of dust and ragged turf enclosed on all sides by 6ft high concrete walls and overlooked by a block of flats with washing hanging from every balcony.

The walls serve as boundary ropes through cover and square. Pranav grins again when he walks out to the middle. He comes alive when he holds a bat in his hands, dancing up and down the wicket, practising his strokes. I say that this must be a place of happy memories and he nods. 'This is where my life changed,' he says again.

A couple of young groundsmen, one of whom freelances as a snake-catcher, appear from the hut that is the pavilion. Tushar bids them wipe down the black scoreboard with a damp rag so that it is spick and span for a photograph. They bend down and pick some numbers out of a pile so that Pranav can pose next to the figure 1,009.

The ground is more dust than grass. Loose stones dot the surface everywhere. It is a fielder's nightmare. The boundaries are short, too. It is 35 yards from the centre to the square-leg boundary.

Some have sought to denigrate Pranav's record by pointing out that Arya Gurukul fielded a weakened team in that HT Bhandari Trophy U16 tie because their headmaster refused to let six of the older boys play because of the approach of exams. Many of the Arya Gurukul team were 12 or 13 years old.

A WORLD RECORD KNOCK
Runs: 1,009 not out Balls: 327
Strike rate: 309 Minutes: 396
Fours: 129 Sixes: 59

Pranav, a wicketkeeper-batsman, opened for KC Gandhi that day. He remembers his most nervous moment as being dropped soon after he had reached 200. Some observers have said he had numerous other reprieves.

There were misfields and dropped catches aplenty. Pranav and his team-mates laid waste the bowling. To say it was one-sided would be an understatement.

Arya Gurukul were all out for 31 and by the end of the first day, KC Gandhi School were 956 for one. Pranav had already broken Collins's world record and was 652 not out. Before the close, the local MP arrived, flanked by a police escort. Soon after that, the police commissioner got in on the act as well.

Some urged Mr Sharma to declare to spare Arya Gurukul more humiliation but by then the coach had sensed that this might mean more than just a big score to Pranav and his family. So Pranav and KC Gandhi continued on the second day.

Pranav top-edged an attempted hook in the 920s but was dropped again. When he became the first batsman ever to reach 1,000, some of the 200 spectators at the ground, including plenty of the Kalyan auto-rickshaw community, ran on to the pitch to congratulate him.

When Pranav reached 1,009 and the team total was 1,465 for three, the school declared. Arya Gurukul were dismissed for 52 in their second innings. KC Gandhi won by an innings and 1,382 runs. Some complained of poor sportsmanship.

Mumbai schoolboy Pranav Dhanawade, 15, runs between the wickets as he smashed a 117-year-old record for the highest number of runs scored in one innings. photo / STR/AFP/Getty Images
Mumbai schoolboy Pranav Dhanawade, 15, runs between the wickets as he smashed a 117-year-old record for the highest number of runs scored in one innings. photo / STR/AFP/Getty Images

Some said it showed a society obsessed with records at the expense of team spirit. Others just gloried in an astonishing feat and wondered if, for Pranav, this would be the passport to a better life.

Some of the unease about the quality of the opposition and the size of the ground is understandable. It is worth noting, though, that Collins's record was revered and respected for more than a century and yet some of the same conditions applied when he was batting for Clark's House against North Town House in the last year of the 19th century.

That Clifton College house match was played on the Junior School field, not on the College Close, where senior games took place. Collins was 13 years old and, like Pranav, was dropped time after time. A contemporaneous description of the field said it was 60 yards wide and 100 yards long and that it sloped abruptly down at one end.

MISSED CHANCES

According to reports in India, Arya Gurukul School missed 25 chances to dismiss Pranav Dhanawade during his epic knock.

A team largely made up of 12 and 13-year-olds dropped 22 catches, while the opposing wicket-keeper reportedly shelled three stumping attempts.

It could have all be very different.

To score a mammoth innings like Pranav or Collins, you need plenty of things in your favour. You need luck, you need average opposition, butter-fingered fielders, poor bowling and a ground with friendly dimensions. And even then, you need the talent and the nerve to compile the score.

'I never really thought about records,' says Pranav. 'I just thought about playing my natural game and being aggressive.' I ask him if he felt nervous when television vans started turning up. He flashes that grin again. 'No,' he says. 'I liked it.'

Before the light fades, Pranav takes us to his house. Piles of rubble are strewn in the quiet cul-de-sac. An auto-rickshaw, its gleaming yellow and black bodywork freshly washed, is parked outside a low-slung lean-to. Its roof is a tarpaulin, weighed down by bricks and a couple of stone slabs.

It is neat and clean inside. Pranav's mother, Mohini, disappears into a tiny kitchen and emerges with deliciously sweet fig and strawberry smoothies that she has made. The television is showing The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Pranav's dad roots around in a cupboard and emerges with a new cricket bat.

It has been signed by Sachin Tendulkar. It arrived a few days after Pranav set the record. 'Dear Pranav,' Tendulkar has written on the bat. 'Keep up the hard work and enjoy the game.' Pranav stares down at it.

'It's my most precious possession,' he says.

He also produces a letter typed on headed MCC notepaper and signed by Derek Brewer, the club's chief executive and secretary.

'News of your remarkable innings of 1,009 not out, earlier this week, has reached Lord's,' it begins. It mentions Collins's record and how it featured annually in the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.

'I offer you on behalf of MCC,' concludes Brewer, 'my sincere congratulations on your feat. Many cricket followers in this country, including Members of MCC, will doubtless be interested to learn of your progress in the game during the years to come.'

Holding the record is no guarantee of realising all your dreams. Collins never made it into first-class cricket. He chose a career in the army and turned out for the Royal Military Academy.

He became an officer in the Royal Engineers and was killed in action in 1914 during the First Battle of Ypres.

Pranav can still dream of a career as a cricketer. His first goal is to make it into the Mumbai U16 team. Beyond that, there is the hope of playing state cricket in the Ranji Trophy and the ultimate aim of playing for India.

Even with that magic figure of 1,009 next to his name, the odds are against him.
He knows that but his life is stretching out in front of him now and suddenly, it seems full of possibilities.

MUMBAI: A CRICKETING NURSERY WHERE INDIAN GREATS WERE SCHOOLED

Cricket's first four-figure innings was not merely centuries in the making, it also broke one of the game's longest-standing records.

Until Pranav Dhanawade's unbeaten 1,009, that accolade had belonged to Arthur Edward Jeune Collins, a Bristol schoolboy who in June 1899, over the course of four afternoons, compiled 628 not out for Clarke's House against North House at Clifton College. Collins's feat looked more unbreakable than Bob Beamon's long jump at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. But, if a threat existed, it was always likely to emanate from the teeming cricket nurseries in and around Mumbai, where Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar - India's two greatest, and most classical, batsmen - learned their trade.

Tendulkar had hinted at what was possible when, as a 14-year-old, he put on an unbroken 664 with his future Test colleague Vinod Kambli in a schools semi-final at the iconic Azad Maidan.

Having ignored the pleas of the team coach to call it a day, Tendulkar is said to have been greeted with a slap in the face when the pair finally walked off.

But 1,009? The key appears to lie partly in the attitude of Dhanawade's coach, Harish Sharma.

Without Sharma's desire to show that a boy from the suburbs could bat his way into the record books, AEJ Collins's record might still be intact.

- Daily Mail

- Daily Mail

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