Shubman Gill. That’s pronounced Shoob-mun. It’s important to pronounce it right, because Gill is one whose name you will probably be seeing a lot of in the future, and its best to avoid another Hardik Paandya and Shekhar Dhawan nomenclature debacle. And at the risk of sounding like Ian Bishop, Shubman Gill is a name you want to remember.
His achievements so far go beyond simply playing cricket for India Under-19 team, impressive as that is. Gill has centuries to his name at every level of cricket, including in short First Class and List A careers. He has also played for the India under-23 team. His hundreds scream to be counted as more than simply three figures. He has an India ‘A’ call up. Most recently, he was appointment vice-captain of the Indian team for the Under-19 World Cup. And, he has a verified Instagram account.
Indian cricket is lucky to have him, especially because if he was born 15 kilometres west of his birthplace, he might not have played for India at all.
Jalalabad is part of the Fazilka district, one of six border districts in Punjab. It has a population of close to 50,000 (2001 census), rich alluvial soil perfect for agriculture, and today you will find a cricket net and a cement pitch there as well. But it had no district cricket team, and that was the central reason why Lakhwinder Singh decided to shift his family to Mohali, so that his son Shubman could get the best of opportunities.
“Shubman was getting good practice in our village also”, Lakhwinder told Firstpost, “but couldn’t play matches. There was no district team, no ground; he had to get into the competition.”
The reason Gill was getting good practice is that his father had identified his talent with the bat and nurtured it from a young age. From age three onwards, Lakhwinder would give his son throwdowns in the hundreds, and built a cement pitch for him and set up nets on their land. An agriculturist by profession, Lakhwinder and his wife Kirat Gill finally made the decision to move nearly 300 kilometers to Mohali, the heart of Punjab cricket, leaving the care of the farm to Lakhwinder’s father.
“I have to keep going back once in a while,” he said. “But as far as possible, when I’m free I be with him, and give him practice myself.”
While Mohali opened the doors to the Punjab Cricket Association system for Gill, it presented some challenges as well. There they were constrained by the same system they had sought to enter. The academy nets ran from 8 am till 11, but the father-son duo were used to hours upon hours of individual practice, and Lakhwinder would not compromise on that. (“Three hours in the morning, two in the evening.”) So they would often get up at 5 in the morning and head to the academy, where Lakhwinder enlisted a few bowlers, and fed Shubman his daily quota of five hundred balls before the academy nets began. Afternoons would feature college, and then meditation to fortify the mental side of his game. Then would come more skill sessions in the evenings.
Considering the strong base his father had given him, it is not surprising that Gill scored a double hundred in his first U-16 (Vijay Merchant Trophy) match. That innings foreshadowed one of the themes of his career: scoring big hundreds once he passes three figures. Again, this was a habit that was instilled into him early. “I always told him he should never feel that ‘sau kar liya bohot ho gaya’ (being satisfied after scoring a hundred),” said Lakhwinder. “I used to scold him even if he scored 100, saying he should score 150, 200, 250.” Even when Shubman scored 351 in an inter-district match, he was berated for getting out in the last over. To the teenager’s credit, he rarely complained, understanding that the admonishments were for his own good. In his final season in the Vijay Merchant Trophy, he finished with 1018 runs in the season, averaging 92.
Gill would have been one of the first names on the team sheet when the next batch of Under-19 players was shortlisted in 2016, and has only improved his standing since. “Shubman is a very good player, one that you can mark as a player to watch out for,” said Amol Muzumdar, the Mumbai Ranji legend, who was the batting coach at the National Cricket Academy for a camp Gill attended.
“He has correctness in technique, good temperament, and is very easy on the eye to watch.” When England Under-19 team toured India in January this year, Gill scored 138* and 160 in two of the youth ODIs, after being promoted to open the innings. And when India visited England in July, he shook off three low scores in the youth tests with century, then notched up another big one, 147 in the ODI series that followed.
“If you’re doing it from a young age like school days, you know how to score runs,” said Muzumdar of Gill’s propensity to score huge hundreds. “Generally it’s a quality that either you have it or you don’t, and that’s the essence of batting.”
These performances had Gill in line to make his debut for India A against New Zealand A, but an untimely side strain ruled him out. He announced his return to fitness with a hundred in his second Ranji Trophy game, at just 18. Now he has been entrusted a leadership role in the Prithvi Shaw led side. The experience of having succeeded in England, where he was player-of the Series in the ODIs, will be invaluable; that is the closest preparation India have had to New Zealand.
As with his hundreds, big things will be expected of Shubman Gill in this World Cup.
The author is a former India cricketer, and now a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She hosts the YouTube Channel ‘Cricket With Snehal’ and tweets @SnehalPradhan