Mumbai: Shubman Gill looks like he has been woken up on his study table. Dressed in a loose t-shirt and a pair of shorts, it’s not hard to take the bleary-eyed 18-year-old as a ubiquitous student preparing for an entrance exam. Except, he happens to be a cricketer who is consistently forcing people to take note of his well-documented potential.
Fresh from his maiden Indian Premier League (IPL) stint, which he finished sixth on run-getters’ list for his franchise Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), Gill talks to Firstpost about the whirlwind two months that have brought him 203 runs and bolstered his credentials as one to watch out for. Excerpts:
How would you describe this IPL season, both for you as a batsman and from team’s perspective?
I think it was a very good season for me, individually as well as for KKR. When the tournament started, we were not the favourites and nobody rated us highly. But the way we started and ended the season, it was very good. We lost to Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) at the very end of the tournament, that too after being in a good position, so that was a very good result. I think we exceeded the expectations of lot of people. Also, the way DK (Dinesh Karthik) bhaiya led the team...I think he had a point to prove as well, that he can succeed as a captain. So overall, it was a good season.
How did you prepare for IPL in the two intervening months between the Under-19 World Cup and start of the league?
Between the U-19 World Cup and IPL, the preparation was more directed towards mental side of things. I think every batsman at this stage has all the shots, but it is important to know when to execute those strokes. I prepared mentally to keep myself ready for this grand stage, and I knew if there is a pressure situation, I should be ready to deliver. (Rahul) Dravid sir spoke to all of us individually after the U-19 World Cup, and he told us to be mentally tough. Also, my father, who is also my coach and has obviously watched the IPL closely over the years, prepared me. Then, when I joined the KKR team, there were regular conversations with Jacques Kallis and Simon Katich.
How do you rate your IPL performance? Also, since you mentioned your father coaches you, what does he has to say about your IPL debut?
I think considering the number I was batting at, I did a fairly good job. I batted mostly at numbers 6 or 7, and I still average about 35 (33.83) and my strike rate is 150 (146.04). Obviously, there’s always room for improvement. I hope to bat higher up the order next season, but even if I bat in lower middle-order, I’d like to raise the bar.
My father didn’t say much. All he said was that I could have done better. But considering it was my first IPL, he is reasonably happy. Before Qualifier 2 though, he did give me an advice. In the previous match (the Eliminator, against Rajasthan Royals), I had got out in the 15th over, which means there were still five overs to be made use of, more so because I was connecting the ball well. So, all my dad said was not to repeat that mistake.
What adjustments did you make in batting down the order, considering you are predominantly a top-order batsman?
The difference between batting up and down the order is more a mental adjustment, and it starts with practice. When you bat up, you train to set up the match and build a strong foundation. Batting lower down the order is entirely different. You are expected to quickly settle down and play your big shots. Then, the focus is on maintaining a good strike rate. It’s more about conditioning yourself to pull it off for the team and practicing accordingly.
KKR lost Qualifier 2 in the last over of the match. Can you take us through that over where KKR needed 19 to make it to the final?
I was confident that we could hunt down 19 runs in the final over, because I was timing the ball really well. Also, their main bowler on the night, Siddarth Kaul, had bowled his quota by then.
We needed 19 from that last over. Looking at the field, we (Shivam Mavi and him) knew that a wide yorker is coming. We decided if the ball is pitched too full, Mavi will take a single, and if it’s in his zone, he will go for it. As expected, Carlos Brathwaite tried a wide yorker, Mavi swung and it went for a four over third-man. The plan was to take a single on the next ball. But the ball was in his range and he hit it well. Unfortunately, it went straight to the fielder. Then we needed 15 runs from four balls, and I had no option but to go for big hits. Again, I hit the ball reasonably well but it went high towards the longest boundary.
Many believe the wicket of Andre Russell turned the match completely in SRH’s favour. What were your plans and respective roles in that short partnership?
Yes, Russell’s wicket was crucial. But when I was batting with him, there was no plan as such. We needed eight runs an over then (9.5), and we decided not to panic and take it to last four overs. What went wrong for us was the fact that we lost unnecessary wickets. I think we gave away two wickets to Rashid in his last over, which was uncalled for. That exposed our tail.
Since we are on Rashid, can you tell us what makes him so difficult to pick and how did you cope with his threat?
I have played him in two matches, and I think I have faced only 5-6 balls from him. But, I think the main reason for him getting so many wickets is that he delivers the ball very fast. His tremendous arm-speed gives very little time to batsmen to pick the ball in the air, and if you can’t read him off his hand, you are in trouble. When I played him for the first time, I realised I could pick his googly from the hand. So he didn’t really pose a great threat to me.
IPL was the first time when you played at the Eden Gardens. How was the experience of playing at one of the most hallowed cricket grounds of the world?
It was a great experience. To have 70,000-odd people shouting your or team’s name was thrilling. It felt really nice when they chanted for us during our matches. But there was no pressure. When I walk out to bat, I don’t think about the crowd; I only think about the match situation and how am I going to tackle it. I have never felt any pressure because of crowd.
How was the experience of playing under the captaincy of Dinesh Karthik?
I think he is an excellent captain. He gives players lot of freedom. Unlike some skippers, Karthik is very calm and composed. He supports and motivates his players all the time. Even when I used to get out early, he used to come to me and say, ‘You are our best option at this position. You’ll have to do it for the team. The method could be entirely yours; we’ll back you till the end.’
Apart from DK, Kallis was also very supportive. At the start of the season, he (Kallis) told me, ‘I know you’re a top-order batsman but we are making you play down the order. Your style and technique is suited for batting up, but we don’t have a batsman to play in lower order. We believe you can do it for us.’ He said all these things right at the beginning of season, so that gave me enough time to prepare for the new position.
This has been an encouraging start to your IPL career, but are there any areas in your game that you’d like to work on?
I think I need to improve my power game. Also, I would like to learn to finish matches like Mahi bhai (MS Dhoni). Obviously such things come with experience, and I am sure I will learn as I play along. But it is important to practice these things.
Last five months have been quite eventful for you. You starred in India’s U-19 World Cup win, got picked in the auction by KKR, and had a decent first season with them. Has it all sunk in?
I think the time is flying, but frankly it’s not unreal. I have been preparing for this life for all these years. I don’t feel it’s out of the world or something, but yes, things are happening very quickly. Playing 2-3 matches a week in IPL, you don’t realise how quickly time passes. It does get tiring too, but not bad enough to avoid matches. It all depends on how well you prepare and how fit you are. Last five-six months have been pretty good, and I hope to continue the good run.
You’re part of India ‘A’ team that will play a limited-overs’ tri-series in England next month. How do you plan to prepare for it?
I’ll take a short break before reporting at National Cricket Academy on 3 June, and we leave for the UK on 10 June. Having played there earlier, I don’t think there’s a massive difference playing in UK. The pitches and conditions are different, but at times it gets blown out of proportion. In 10-15 days that we have before our first match, our batting will shape up according to the conditions.