The room is a mess: two suitcases lie open by the far end, clothes strewn everywhere, with the beds unmade. The usual cricketing detritus of gloves and therabands can be spotted on the floor, along with three pairs of sneakers. The only part of the room that is organised is the shelf below the TV, where the Play Station sits.
The occupants though, are not short of clarity. They remember when they first met, what they thought of each other, and how many runs they scored when they first batted together. Shubman Gill and Abhishek Sharma have a habit of taking their team to victories together. Just as they did against Bangladesh in the quarter-final of the U-19 World Cup.
On a wicket that lived up to its two-paced reputation, Gill made batting look easy. It was the first time India were under some pressure in the tournament; Manjot Kalra had fallen for nine, and Prithvi Shaw was far from his fluent run-a-ball self. But Gill’s temperament dovetailed beautifully into the situation, his strong backfoot game taking advantage of the pace the wicket offered when the ball was dug in. He was helped by some loose bowling by the Bangladesh pacers, and took advantage of it whenever they over-pitched. India took 71 off the first 10 overs, despite that being the most difficult period to bat. In a game where only one other player in the top six had a strike rate of over 90, Gill brought up his fifty off 48 balls. While he did not follow through on his habit of scoring big after getting a start, his 86 set up India for a total that would be out of Bangladesh’s reach.
The one other player who managed to score quickly was Abhishek. Abhishek came in at the fall of Gill’s wicket, when the score was 181 in the 36th over. India had only one specialist batter at the crease; after that it was more of Abhishek’s ilk, the all-rounders. Almost learning from Gill, Abhishek gauged the pace of the wicket first, scoring just 18 off his first 30 balls. Then he picked the right bowlers to target; He played five dot balls and scored just one run in the 42nd over, because it was the last over that Nayeem Hasan, Bangladesh’s best bowler, had left. Then in the last five overs, he took 17 runs off the nine balls he faced, and was eventually dismissed for 50 off 49. In the second innings, he took two sharp catches at slip, as well as two wickets.
While Gill and Abhishek didn’t bat together, creating winning partnerships is nothing new for the two young men from Punjab. The duo made their first tour together at the U-14 level; Abhishek was captain, and the two were opening batters as well as roommates. “We had a partnership of some 150 runs in our first match”, said Abhishek. In their first year together in the Vijay Merchant Trophy, they took Punjab to the final, which they lost despite a Gill century. The next year, they went one better. Under Abhishek’s captaincy, they lifted the title in 2015-16. Gill shared the winning formula: “Before every game, we had to have a Domino’s Pizza (whichever was the cheapest one.)”
The two are among the Indian U-19s who have First Class experience. Gill has a hundred to his name already, while Abhishek missed a debut ton by six runs. Along with Anmolpreet Singh, who played the last U-19 World Cup, they represent a young core which the Punjab team can build around for the next many years. And in this tournament, they are providing certainty that is plastering the micro-cracks this team has shown. Despite India’s unbeaten record, there are still questions about the middle order; Harvik Desai batted at No 4 on Friday, but looked far from settled in his knock of 34. When Gill fell five runs after Desai, Abhishek was one of two new batters at the crease. After a blitz of 23 runs in eight balls against Australia, he showed that he can construct an innings too. Don’t be surprised if you see him bat higher in the semi-final.
With the performance in the last few games, both will have also done their chances in the IPL auction no harm. Franchises are always looking for multi-dimensional players like Abhishek (he can also throw with both hands), and Indian batters who are comfortable on the back foot like Gill. “If we get selected we will find out, so we won’t be tracking it (the auction),” said Gill. “But main aim is to win the World Cup, that’s the only thing in our heads now”, said Shubman after the game.
Friday’s win has set up a much awaited semi-final against Pakistan. But since the team plays the second of the semis, they have an extra day in Christchurch. Some part of it will likely be spent playing each other on Playstation, where Abhishek insists he is the better player, notwithstanding a 90-10 record in favour of Gill. But clearly, the best results come when they are on the same side.