Pranav Dhanawade dreams of cricket, studies with a cricket ball in hand, and plays hooky from school to hit the pitch with his friends.
In India, this cricket obsessive isn’t alone.
The entire country is mad about the sport, as seen by the overnight success of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Founded in 2008, it is now the most-watched 20-over tournament worldwide.
Last month, Pranav, aged 15, emerged as an unlikely cricket hero: scoring a phenomenal 1,009 runs in a single innings. He set a new world record in school cricket — smashing one that had stood for more than 100 years, after Arthur Collins, aged 13, scored 628 runs in Bristol, England, in 1899.
“I never thought I would score the runs,” Pranav, the son of an auto-rickshaw driver, told CNN at his cramped but well-cared for home in a working-class township on the outskirts of Mumbai.
“When I went to bat, I was simply scoring runs — but when I crossed 500, then 600 runs, I realized, ‘I can score 1,000’.”
When CNN visited his tiny home in Kalyan, two hours from Mumbai, Pranav said that while he felt happy, his overwhelming emotion was that of tiredness.
Hardly surprising. Though he hit 59 sixes and 129 fours, he still had to run 2.8 kilometers between the wickets for the other 139 runs.
Pranav — who says he doesn’t work out in the gym or lift weights — hit his record from just 323 balls in 395 minutes.
A star is born
“Honestly, his achievement is unthinkable, no matter who you play against,” former Indian international cricketer Ajit Agarkar told CNN. “Put any batsman out there, give him the worst bowler and I doubt he will reach 1,000 runs.”
Equally impressed by Pranav’s feats was cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. A fellow native of Mumbai, who made his Test match debut aged 16, Tendulkar is revered in India and holds the record for most runs scored both in Test matches and one day internationals.
He sent a signed bat to Pranav, which arrived while CNN was visiting. The schoolboy’s eyes lit up as he held it reverentially.
The school run
Historically, Mumbai inter-school cricket — a platform for talented players hoping to get scouted for the city’s Under-16 team — has been extremely competitive, producing greats such as Indian batting legend Sunil Gavaskar and Rohit Sharma, who captains current IPL champions Mumbai Indians.
“Take any great cricketer from Mumbai and he’s played school cricket here,” says Agarkar.
“I benefited from it, personally. In fact, I changed schools because of cricket. Which is a big step for a 12-year-old. I was at a school that was not very strong in cricket, so I switched schools to go to one that was known for its cricket.”
Performing well at the Under-16 level often led to a place on a Ranji Trophy side — India’s domestic cricket championship — and from there, the Indian national team.
Today, it’s slightly different. With the rise of new formats such as the IPL and other T20 competitions, and the proliferation of private cricket coaching academies in recent years, there are more scouts looking for talent, meaning aspiring stars have more opportunity to get spotted.
Following in the footsteps of batsman Sharma — whose father was a caretaker, and who excelled in school cricket — Pranav hopes his talent will provide a route out of poverty.
“I want him to be a good cricketer,” says Pranav’s mother Mohini Dhanawade. “He should rise high, but keep his feet firmly planted on the ground. That’s what I pray for.”
Speaking outside their modest home, his father Prashant Dhanawade says: “Pranav’s 1,009 proves that everyone is equal. This is the magic of cricket.”