SHUBMAN GILL was barely 10, but he remembers the dropped jaw that had exaggerated the broad and toothy smile on his face. It was 2010, and the IPL season was in full swing. Standing at the PCA Ground in Mohali, he pinched himself when he saw Sachin Tendulkar arrive in his shiny blue Mumbai Indians jersey for the customary pre-match practice session. Being the ball boy gave Shubman access to the whole gamut of IPL players. But the star-struck youngster’s gaze was fixed intently at one man.
As Sachin finished his stint at the nets, and started his walk back to the pavilion, Shubman could not hide his excitement anymore. He would dart across and fall at the maestro’s feet. Taken aback by the young boy’s gesture, Sachin takes him by the arm and tells him: “Mera pair kyon chhoo rahe ho… pair chhoona hain toh sirf apne parents ka.”
There is a tinge of embarrassment when Shubman recalls that incident now. “What can I say… meeting Sachin was like a dream come true for me,” he quips rather sheepishly. Like most other youngsters of his age, it’s no surprise that it was Sachin Tendulkar who had shaped the cricketing aspirations of the lad from Punjab’s Ferozpur district.
Sachin’s posters adorned the walls of his room in Mohali from the time he could remember. There were days when he would pose in front of the mirror in a similar batting stance and practise those cover drives for hours together.
Since that fan moment, Shubman has gone from strength to strength, amassing runs in junior cricket with the same unbridled glee in which he had first sighted his idol. The cricketing world would get a fleeting glimpse of the tall batsman in the recent ODI series against England’s U-19 side in Nagpur, when he racked up over 350 runs in four games. He notched up two big hundreds — an unbeaten 138, followed by 160 to steer India colts to emphatic back-to-back wins. The sequence of consistent performances in the series has now earned him a place in Punjab’s squad for the premier 50-over domestic tournament — the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
Shubman, like countless other budding cricketers, got ample support from his cricket-crazy father Lakhwinder, a landowner in Ferozpur. He quickly sensed his younger son’s insatiable passion for the game.
“Bachpan se use cricket ka shauk tha. Woh Sachin ko TV mein bat karte dekhkar bahut khush ho jata tha. Usko aur bachchon ki tarah khilone pasand nahi the. Woh sirf ek bat aur ball se khush rehta tha,” Lakhwinder reminisces.
Eager that his younger son’s burgeoning cricketing aspirations take shape, he got Shubman enrolled at the tender age of 8 at the Mohali Cricket Association, a much sought-after cricketing nursery adjacent to the PCA stadium. This was a decision that would change Shubman’s life forever. Mohali, a bustling suburb, was a throwback to the quaint, almost laid-back life witnessed hitherto in Ferozpur. “Mere saath, mere mummy-paapa aur didi bhi Mohali shift ho gaye,” Shubman says.
It was at the Mohali Cricket Association where Shubman honed his skills and made heads turn with his impressive batsmanship. At the age of 11, exactly three years after joining the Mohali academy, Shubman was selected to play for Punjab’s U-16 district-level two-day games.
He finished as the highest run-scorer that year with 330 runs from five games. But he would not be selected the following year, as the selectors felt he was too young to feature at the U-16 level. The next year, he progressed to playing U-14 cricket, and then in 2013, would represent Punjab in the prestigious Vijay Merchant U-16 tournament.
That was when Shubman showcased his full potential. He would accrue over 1000 runs from just seven games and also score a double hundred.
“That was a very satisfying tournament for me. I was just 14 and playing with guys who were 2-3 years older to me. Despite that, I had managed to score over 1000 runs,” he gushes. The mountain of runs in junior cricket helped him earn a stint at the NCA. This would help him in his ascent even more as he got tips from the likes of WV Raman and Amol Muzumdar.
The Dravid factor
The constant batting appraisals at the NCA from the likes of Raman and Mazumdar notwithstanding, Shubman would perhaps get the biggest attestation about his batting from his U-19 coach Rahul Dravid.
It was under him that Shubman would find his verve and regain his insatiable appetite to score big hundreds. After scoring four fifties in five games at the junior Asia Cup, Shubman would get dismissed for two below par scores in the opening two games of the U-19 ODI series against England. Shubman looked in decent touch, but somehow that big three-figure score eluded him. On the eve of the third game, Dravid walked up to one of his brightest wards, put an arm around his shoulders and said: “Whenever you get a start, make sure you make it count. Whenever you go out to play, make sure you come back without any regret. You will be opening the innings for tomorrow’s game.”
These were the words from the coach. If anything, Shubman was only delighted to be back as an opener, a role he has donned with flair since his youth cricket days. He would repay Dravid’s faith by knocking two consecutive centuries in the following ODIs, further illustrating his rising graph.
“I’m a naturally a very aggressive batsman, and like to dominate the bowling. Rahul sir’s words that day helped me immensely. He is not the kind of person who would tinker with your technique too much. Instead, he helps me mentally,” Shubman adds.The opener is highly impressed by Dravid, and says the former India skipper exudes a cool demeanour off the field.
“Yes, he is stern on match days and during practice sessions. But during our off days, he is really cool. He would come to our rooms and would try his hand at Playstation,” he explains.
Despite the impressive start, Shubman is not looking too far ahead. At the moment, he only wants to take his rich vein of form into the upcoming Vijay Hazare Trophy. He is also a tad excited at the prospect of sharing the dressing room with veterans like Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh. That apart, he has set a target for himself.
“I want to play Ranji cricket for Punjab this year. That’s my aim. Let’s see how it goes,” he signs off.
Vijay Hazare Grouping
Group A: Assam, Baroda, Haryana, Odisha, Punjab, Railways, Vidarbha; Group B: Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh; Group C: Andhra, Bengal, Goa, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Mumbai, Rajasthan; Group D: Chhattisgrah, Hyderabad, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Saurashtra, Services.