Interview: Turning heads at 16, young Shubhang Hegde emerges as gem for the future
A day before the start of the India-Australia Test in Bangalore in March this year, the Indian team, slotted for practice in the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium nets next to the NCA, entered the premises exactly at 9:15 am, right on schedule according to their itinerary.
Before the stream of blue made its way to the NCA practice grounds, a group of young individuals, dressed in spotless white, had already arrived with their kits for company, waiting for their idols to display their game in front of them.
These ‘net bowlers’ dispersed to separate nets once the Indian team had divided themselves into a batting and bowling group. In the farthest nets, two sets of meshes away from where Virat Kohli was taking throwdowns from Sanjay Bangar, the trio of Ravichandran Ashwin, Jayant Yadav and Kuldeep Yadav were bowling, with head coach Anil Kumble occasionally rolling his arm over too.
Bowling with them was a lanky 15-year-old, throwing some accurate left-arm spin and making players years older than him play and miss. Although young, he proved to be a competent makeshift replacement for the absent Ravindra Jadeja.
Shubhang Hegde will remember that day forever. The all-rounder from Bangalore has set the domestic scene on fire, having scored more than 1000 runs and taken over 90 wickets at different levels. He has been touted as the next big thing in Karnataka cricket.
“The India camp was a great experience. I was there only for a day, and did not interact much. Yet, bowling to them was tremendous, and there is a lot to learn from those people. Even though I did not interact much, just bowling to Kohli was great. One thing I observed was that you need to have more consistency as you bowl at the higher levels otherwise it’ll be very tough.”
Six months later, Hegde was playing for the Belagavi Panthers, who eventually went on to win KPL 2017. Speaking to Sportskeeda on the sidelines of the event, the shy but level-headed Hegde poured his heart out about the game and his future.
Cricket was passed onto his genes from his father, who used to play the game too. As was the case with so many youngsters from his generation, Hegde’s idols were Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid.
“My father used to play cricket, so I used to go to watch most of his games. Watching him, I developed an interest in the game. From my childhood, I have been playing the game. It just came naturally to me.”
As he grew older, and his interest leaned towards bowling, he found an idol in Daniel Vettori, who completely matches his playing style.
“I like bowling more than batting. In state games, I usually play like a bowling all-rounder who can bat.”
Interestingly, Vettori was at the helm of affairs when Hegde got to bowl in the Royal Challengers Bangalore camp this year. He admits that it was different from the India camp.
“It was a challenge bowling to the RCB batsmen in Chinnaswamy, they were going after us [spinners] as usual. The coaches didn’t say much, but I picked up a few points from there.”
Six months later, he was playing in the Karnataka Premier League with the Belagavi Panthers, on the back of stellar performances in the domestic circuit where he scored over 1000 runs and picked 90 wickets across different levels.
A canny bowler who knows his strengths well, Hegde believes that in T20s, bowling, for a spinner, is all about maintaining pressure on the batsman.
“One bad over can change the whole match. You have to build pressure and bowl as many dots as possible. That’s when the batsman makes a mistake and gets out.”
Having batted in almost all positions, Hegde has, in a very short span, developed a mature head. It was visible even during the KPL: even in the closest of games, he managed to maintain a poker face, not displaying a hint of nervousness on his face.
“I feel being mentally strong is my biggest strength. I can handle pressure really well.”
Perhaps it was one of the biggest reasons why the Belagavi Panthers decided to invest in the teenager. He looks like a boy on the pitch, his baby-face easily throws people off. But when he comes in to bowl, there is confidence reeking out of the 16-year-old; not even a flinch as he strides into his bowling action and delivers the ball with remarkable fluidity.
“It has been a great experience playing the KPL: I was picked by a good franchise and a great management. The owner, Ali Ashfak Thari, and the senior players have backed me always, and the likes of Stuart Binny and Sreenath Aravind have given me a lot of support, even when I am bowling badly.”
The Panthers coach believes that, with the right mentoring, Hegde can go the distance: “I have been seeing him from U-14 years, he is a great student of the game. He can handle pressure really well, and is a big match player. Keeping in mind Karnataka’s future, he is the best bet. I see great potential, for him, it is about coping with pressure and if he goes through a couple of years and gets the experience, nothing can stop him.”
The same maturity was shown by Hegde in the finals at Hubli, where he bowled a superb spell of 2-8. Big match player, just like the coach observed.
He dreams of bowling to Steve Smith one day, and aims at playing for the India U-19 side in the future, the ultimate ambition being donning the national colours.
With maturity way ahead of his years, and the right mix of talent and determination to match, Hegde can surely go the distance.