As a kid, Shubman Gill would often accompany his father Lakhwinder Gill to their agricultural fields on a tractor in Jalalabad in Ferozepur district, not forgetting to carry with him a bat and a ball. After he was done supervising the work in the rice fields, his father would bowl to Shubman. Seeing his son’s enthusiasm for the game, Lakhwinder decided to shift to Mohali, where his son could get professional training at a cricket academy.
Seven years since Shubman was admitted to the Mohali Cricket Association academy, and incidentally, at the same ground, the 14-year-old partnered Nirmal Singh for a world-record opening wicket stand of 587 runs in the Punjab Inter-District U-16 tournament for the ML Markan Trophy. Shubman made a 277-ball 351 while Nirmal made 267 off 335 deliveries. The association lasted for more than six hours.
Shubman, the captain of his side, was clearly happy with the achievement, but still chose to be modest. “I guess the wicket was rolled too well for the game, making it so good for batting. The ball was coming onto the bat and when my eyes were set I went for my shots,” he says. He talks about how he broke the innings into chunks of 50s. “After I made the first 50, I started to enjoy going for my shots. Once I crossed 150, I started feeling tired but Tinkoo sir (Sukhwinder Tinkoo, chief coach of the academy) was constantly telling me to go for another 50 runs and play freely. When I crossed 300, I was very tired; in fact the next 50 runs came only because of Nirmal’s support from the other end. We never realized we were about to break a record, although that famous Sachin-Kambli school partnership was on my mind.”
Long, winding road
Nirmal’s route to cricket is similar to Shubman’s, moving from an outside center to Mohali in search of a career. Nirmal hails from Bhiwani, Haryana, a place known to produce boxers and not cricketers. Although he tried his hand in cricket academies in Bhiwani and Kaithal, a lack of coaching and other facilities made him shift to Punjab. Like Shubman’s father, Nirmal’s too took a transfer from his position in the Bhiwani district courts to the Panchkula courts. Five years ago, Nirmal too joined Tinkoo’s academy which included among its alumni cricketers like Gurkirat Mann, Manpreet Gony, Harmeet Bansal among others.
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Friends off the field, Nirmal talks about how it was a joy watching Shubman from the other end. “Off the field both of us talk about a lot, about movies, travel and such but during the match we kept pushing each other. And it was a delight watching Shubman bat so aggressively. Also, I am happy that I never chose boxing over cricket,” said Nirmal.
For all their talent, the record may not have come to pass had it not been for Nirmal’s streak of independence. “Actually, I told Nirmal to bat one-down in this match as Amritsar had some good fast bowlers. But he insisted that he will bat as an opener.” The rest, as they say, was history.