Has one seen a more aesthetically pleasing Test opening pair than Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma? It can be mulled really long without a convincing answer. Aesthetics can’t, of course, be a reason to pair up two gorgeous batsmen; runs, talent, and temperament will decide but it’s a nice coat-peg to kickstart conversations and it seems Gill is going to trigger more than a few chats in the days to come. From ‘real deal, bro!’ to ‘lambi race ka ghoda, bhai (one for the longer run)!’ to ‘Machi, seme sarakku iruku (he has the goods)’ – the raves have already been flowing across the country. Wiser heads have pleaded for less hype but such sane emotions feel like a kill-joy in the here and now.
A crack of doom, the soundtrack for a shot that echoed at the SCG to a smattering of masked fans in particular has made it to the world of GIFs. Gill punched a back-of-length ball from Pat Cummins on its head, a rasping short-arm jab finished with no follow-through. Broadcasters lured fans to hashtags, websites left digital trails of aurgasms, and many from the cricketing fraternity salivated. There is something about a curtailed follow-through that thrills the cognoscenti – Tendulkar’s on-the-up punch that would ricochet on impact, Zaheer Abbas’s check-drives, Damien Martyn’s inside-out cover drive… this shot from Gill, and his short-arm pull can also make it to that list.
Childhood nostalgia too seeped into some of his shots. At one point, Gill suddenly arched back to a shortish ball from Cummins to upper-cut it up and over the slip cordon. When he was a boy, his father would have his farmhands bounce at him at his village. “Once they realised I wasn’t getting out, they would bounce at me a lot! And I developed the upper-cut there as I didn’t have the strength as a boy to pull,” he told this newspaper couple of years ago, when he mentioned that he allows himself a chuckle at the childhood memory whenever he plays that shot.
Who would have thought that faraway Sydney can trigger nostalgia in a boy who grew up in a village in Punjab and is barely out of his teens? Or a boy who used to devour Domino’s Pizza (“Pizza mania something”) before every age-group match with friend Abhishek Sharma will one day be dining on snarling Aussie bowlers? It’s some journey for a boy of routine who couldn’t find Domino’s in the 2018 U-19 World Cup in New Zealand and settled for an aural-treat instead, listening to Star Boy by The Weeknd during every bus journey to the grounds. It won’t be a surprise if that Pizza company coughs up the required dough to sign him up soon.
For a few years, not that long back, Gill would religiously check the website Cricketarchive, a haven for cricket tragics, to see what Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara did at his age. “Especially Kohli! Yaar, Virat Kohli jab 16 years tha, toh kya karta tha? How many runs he used to make? I would open up his record and check!” And what did he find? “Achcha itna… insey toh hamara jyaada hai yaar! Matlab sahi ja raha hai!” (Ah, I have more runs than him. It means it’s going well!)” and he broke in a lovely ambition-tinged laughter of innocence.
Neither Gill nor his family know his cricketing failures. If he hasn’t hit a hundred in a while, his sister would taunt, “Ab toh tere sey sau bhi nahi ban rahen!” (You are not even able to hit hundreds now). Until couple of years ago, he couldn’t even remember a phase where he failed in three innings in a row. As the astonishment sunk in, and one squeaked out concern about how he would handle it when it comes, Gill smiled, “Socha nahin (Not thought about it)! I would handle it then!”
Abhishek Nayar, his friend and coach at Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League, vouches that he has rarely seen a talented youngster who is so sorted mentally. “He is aware that he is good and that comes from confidence and hard work. He also knows that the game is bigger than him. He is not someone who requires advice around mental aspects.” When he was five, the price of his wicket, laid down by his father to anyone who scalped him, was 100 rupees. The bounty kept increasing as he aged, and the reaction of the Aussies at his dismissal suggested it’s now priceless.
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