Sunday morning was like the start of any other day for Shubman Gill. As the 19-year-old got ready for a practice session at the nets near his home in Mohali, it was with the realisation that he would soon be sharing a dressing room with his heroes after his selection in the Indian team for the upcoming New Zealand limited-overs tour.
As the U-19 world Cup star got ready to begin a new chapter in his cricketing career, it was time to remember the long journey that had brought him to this stage.
“I was less than four years old when I started playing cricket at my village and my father Lakwinder Singh would bring me some wooden bats and wickets. Later, we shifted to Mohali to support my training. Last night, when I got the message from some friends and journalists about my selection, heartbeat badh gayi thi. I was excited and I gave the good news to my father and mother Kearat Gill, who were sleeping at that time. Jab se practice shuru ki thi, yahi soch tha ki ek din Indian cricket team ke liye khelna hai. As a cricketer, one thinks about that all the time and today’s is the start of new journey for me,” said an emotional Shubman.
A year ago, Gill was preparing for the U-19 World Cup in New Zealand, a tournament which saw the Punjab youngster amassing 372 runs in six matches, including a century against Pakistan in the semi-finals. It has been a meteoric rise for the prodigy. He made his Ranji Trophy debut in the 2017-2018 season and the opener scored a total of 728 runs in nine innings at an average of 104 with two hundreds and two half-centuries, but Punjab failed to qualify for knock-outs. Gill would also do duty for India A in New Zealand, where he hit a half-century during the rain-hit unofficial Test series and the youngster believes the experience of playing in that country in two separate stints will add to his confidence.
“Last year, is time pe main U-19 World Cup ke liye ja raha tha. We went 2-3 weeks prior to the tournament and it helped me understand the conditions. The wickets in New Zealand are a bit bouncy but as a batsman, such wickets allow you to play your natural game. That was my focus at the U-19 World Cup as well as on the India A tour. During the latter series, I faced bowlers like Doug Bracewell and Lockie Ferguson, who have played for New Zealand, and facing such an attack always adds to your confidence,” shares Gill.
He has been following the recent matches of the senior Indian team, and it does feel surreal that he will be joining the same players soon.
“Yesterday, I was watching the India-Australia ODI on television and now to think that I will be a part of the dressing room with players like Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni is like a dream for me. Khelne ka pressure nahi hoga, par aap se expectations hoti hain, us baat ka thoda pressure toh hoga. It won’t be different game-wise or technique-wise, but how you handle yourself to bring out the best while playing on such a stage will be the main challenge. My favourite shots are the cover drive and pull and I will definitely like to play my natural game in New Zealand,” added Gill, who has already reached the milestone of 1,000 First-Class runs in a brief career.
The last two months have seen Gill scoring the fourth-highest score by an opener in Indian first-class cricket when he hit 268 against Tamil Nadu in Mohali. His 728 runs this Ranji season have come at an astounding average of 104. The youngster has spent time under India U-19 and A coach Rahul Dravid for more than two years, during which time he also scored 356 runs during India A’s tour of England in July last year.
“Abhi Rahul sir se baat nahin hui team selection ki. But when he will get to know and talk with me, he will be happy. I have been playing under him for more than two years. At first, we all would feel enamoured by him but he made us comfortable and whenever we faced a issue in our batting, he would listen to us and also point out if something is not right. The biggest thing which I have learnt from him is to remain calm and have patience in tough situations,” Gill said.
“Playing First-Class cricket gave me confidence and when you spend time with players like Yuvraj Singh, it also helps. During the IPL, talking with players like Dinesh Karthik apart from coaches Jacques Kallis sir, Abhishek Nayar sir and Simon Katich sir would also help me. Robin Uthappa bhai told me the importance of rotating the strike in T20 format too and picking up the areas once you settle.”
At Gill’s native village Chak Khere Wala near the India-Pakistan border in Ferozepur district of Punjab, his grandfather Didar singh Gill has just returned from his day at the farms and the selection news means the octogenarian has something to share with his local friends.
“Our village is near the India-Pakistan international border. Shubman’s selection has made our village famous like Mumbai, a city whose players play for the Indian team. Today is also the festival of Lohri and it is the biggest gift for the whole village,” the proud grandfather said.