Prithvi Shaw (R) is among the first youngsters to benefit from an international sporting exchange scheme, brainchild of Dr Samir Pathak, an abdominal surgeon and a former England Universities wicketkeeper-batsman. © Wisden India

Prithvi Shaw (R) is among the first youngsters to benefit from an international sporting exchange scheme, brainchild of Dr Samir Pathak, an abdominal surgeon and a former England Universities wicketkeeper-batsman. © Wisden India

Prithvi Shaw. It’s a name cricket lovers in India are unlikely to forget in a rush. All of 14, the young lad from Rizvi Springfield school in Mumbai stormed into the record books a few days back  with the highest score ever by an Indian in minor cricket.

Shaw made 546 in a Harris Shield encounter against St Francis D’Assissi Borivali on November 20, the third highest score in minor cricket worldwide, and the highest in the last 112 years. Already, unfairly, comparisons are being made with some of the legends of the game, but the hyperbole is inevitable considering that it was at the Harris Shield that Vinod Kambli and Sachin Tendulkar announced their arrival with a then record partnership of 664.

Shaw was among the first youngsters to benefit from an international sporting exchange scheme, which is the brainchild of Dr Samir Pathak, an abdominal surgeon who was a former England Universities wicketkeeper-batsman.

The exchange scheme, initiated in 2012, led to Shaw joining Cheadle Hulme School on the recommendation of Nilesh Kulkarni, the former Mumbai and India left-arm spinner, while Sarfaraz Khan, another young Mumbai batsman who has also scored runs by the bucketful, also benefited from the scheme in 2012 when he travelled to the United Kingdom to play Yorkshire League cricket for Hull CC. Still only 16, Sarfaraz has already broken into the Indian Under-19 side.

Pathak has fond memories of his time with Shaw. “He craved Indian food, he found it difficult to embrace the local dishes such as fish and chips. He also craved Chinese food, a very different entity in England compared to India in terms of spice and flavour,” recalled Pathak. “In fact, he used to add Tabasco sauce to all the bland UK dishes to make them more tasty.

“Prithvi was quite homesick when he arrived. However, he made friends very quickly. He played his first match two days after his arrival in the UK, in mid-April with the temperature reading 8-degrees Celsius. Prithvi wore five jumpers borrowed from his freezing teammates. He only made 24, but the way he acclimatised to conditions was phenomenal for a 13-year-old.”

It wasn’t just Shaw who charmed those he interacted with. Pathak has an interesting narrative involving the other prodigy, Sarfaraz. “Sarfaraz came to play a few weeks of Yorkshire League cricket for Hull CC. His baggage had been lost, so he arrived for his first game with no kit,” remembered Pathak. “The Hull players were warming up prior to the game and thought it may be a good idea for Sarfaraz to acclimatise in the nets. He went in to bat wearing gloves too large, a helmet too big and unfamiliar footwear, and proceeded to hit all the bowlers around the park. The Hull CC boys were stunned at the audacity and talent of this youngster, who had arrived from Mumbai only 24 hours previously, and wondered how good he would be when his own kit arrived.”

Run by a group of young professionals in the UK, the exchange programme aims at taking talented young Indian cricketers from a range of socio-economic backgrounds to the UK to enhance their social and cricketing development. The initial success of the exchange scheme has led to a collaboration with Merchant Taylors School, one of the top 10 independent schools in the United Kingdom.

“The purpose of this scheme is multi-faceted,” said Pathak. “Young Indian cricketers benefit via exposure to different cricketing approaches and from playing and practicing in English conditions against a variety of opponents. More importantly, the boys are exposed to different cultures and life experiences, which, combined with their cricketing experience, should hold them in good stead for their future endeavours.

“What makes our scheme different is that we are offering opportunities for these talented boys to experience more than the just the opportunity to play cricket abroad. While they are in the UK, they attend academic classes and are also expected to contribute to family life with their host families. We believe that education combined with cricket will empower these youngsters to fulfil their potential.”

The exchange scheme has since led to the formation of a charity called the International Organisation for Health and Sports Advancement (IOHSA). Pathak, John Wilson and Robert Haxby, the co-founders, will provide the financial and educational platform and focus on all levels of the game, including developing a player’s overall skill sets to help them be prepared to tackle all challenges in life and not just in cricket. Pathak will also use his expertise to engage in health-related charity work, in addition to the sports exchange.

A string of former and current India cricketers have been impressed enough with the impact of the scheme to recommend young cricketers from India to travel to the UK and make the most of the facilities on offer. Dilip Vengsarkar, the former India skipper, has already sent a youngster this summer while R Ashwin is expected to send another young aspirant next year. Saba Karim, the former India stumper who is now a national selector, has also weighed in with his inputs, adding value to the insights of Pathak, Haxby, Wilson and Tom Webley, the former Somerset opening batsman who oversees the cricketing growth of the young lads.

“It’s terrific to have such a scheme in place and it definitely benefits young cricketers,” said Vengsarkar. “Most of the young cricketers from Mumbai come from humble backgrounds and touring England as a student and cricketer gives them a lot of exposure and confidence, which will help them in their career ahead.”