It was a kind of catch that gets you into highlight reels, if not into public consciousness. For, Gurkeerat Mann had not just plucked off a one-handed stunner, he had done so on the fine-leg fence after having run a few meters to his right and flung his lithe body into thin air. Till recently, that singular piece of outfield brilliance—that came during the 2013 IPL—was the 25-year-old Punjab all-rounder’s only real tryst with cricketing fame.
Mann had, however, experienced other highs and highlights on the cricket field on either side of his gravity-defying catch too. Like scoring 83 for India Red in a Challenger Trophy contest the same year against Delhi, not to forget a string of match-winning performances with bat and ball for the junior and senior Punjab teams. That is before he notched up a couple of career-defining performances over the last month to literally break into the Indian ODI and T20 teams for the series against South Africa.
Those came in India A colours, once with the bat as he orchestrated a glorious run-chase against Australia A in the final of the tri-series in Chennai before he snared a five-wicket haul with his effective off-spin to derail Bangladesh A at Bangalore. Mann’s record in List A cricket is impressive—an average of 46.10 in 40 games including a century—even if he has remained rather anonymous in the vast expanse of India’s domestic scene. But for Punjab, he’s transformed from a useful lower-order batsman to the mainstay of the middle-order, a promotion that his long-time coach Sukhwinder Singh Tinku had foreseen long before the rest of the country recognized Mann’s talents.
“In terms of learning, he was certainly way ahead of other students. Whatever I used to teach him in batting technique, he used to correct it the very next day. When I realized that he was performing extraordinarily in his age group, I put him in the senior age group,” he said.
Eager to learn
Having groomed the shy and eager-to-learn Mann from his teenage years, Tinku is not overly surprised that the selectors have taken a while to hear his silent knocks on their doors over the last few years. There was the rear-guard effort in the CK Nayudu Trophy in 2012, when he resurrected Punjab from a precarious position with a match-winning ton against Delhi. Then a couple of decisive contributions in a low-scoring Ranji Trophy match at Lahli in 2013, where his 51 and 37 set up a crucial win against Haryana. But more than skill, Tinku feels that it is his ward’s application and intelligence of a cricketer which has helped him rise so quickly.
“He is good against spinners, solid at defence, powerful in hitting and good off both backfoot as well as front foot. Where other batsmen would defend a certain delivery, he would play a big shot. So you would think that he is playing very fast, but actually he is playing normal. Actually his basics are very strong. So every format looks easy. He’s intelligent when it comes to picking his moments with the bat,” Tinku explains.
So how would Mann fit into the present India ODI playing XI? He could be the perfect replacement for Ravindra Jadeja at the No.7 slot, where India have preferred playing a spinning all-rounder. His fast-paced off-spin is off the type captain MS Dhoni likes having in the middle-overs to shut out touring opposition on Indian wickets.
“Actually his bowling action is very good. His point of delivery lends him a great advantage to be accurate. He has immense control even if he doesn’t spin it too much,” explains Tinku.
A moment of frustration
Though Mann isn’t someone to always speak his mind, his coach does remember him having lost his cool once and having gotten frustrated at having to bide too much time before being picked for his state. To the extent, that Tinku even feared his favourite pupil might turn his back on the game.
“He got angry with me as if I wasn’t helping him get picked. So I told him that it is a process. And I can’t help you in it. The only think I can do is to make you practice harder and stand next to you,” he says.
But while his batting and bowling have gotten him closer than ever to an India cap, it’s still his fielding that gets those close to Mann excited. And they’re not at all surprised that it was a diving catch that got Mann into the spotlight, even if only for a brief period. Or so they remember.
Says one teammate, “Our coach once asked the groundsman to make puddles on the field and then Gurkeerat would demonstrate the art of falling on the ground. All of us then tried to be perfect like him but couldn’t match his perfection,” he said.