Thriving under Dravid, Indian under-19 batsman Shubman Gill sets sights on emulating Virat Kohli
278 runs in just four innings at an average of 93 and a strike-rate of over 100, these numbers are simply phenomenal in the limited-overs cricket irrespective of the gender, age group, and the level of competition.
It is evident by the fact that the next best batsman has scored just 160 runs in five innings, one innings less than the top-scorer, at an average of 32 and a strike-rate of just over 100.
The 278 runs were scored by India's under-19 batsman Shubman Gill during his team's recent tour to England. Gill was completely in a league of his own as Prithvi Shaw, the second-highest run-getter, scored 118 runs less than Shubman in spite of playing an innings more.
This is not the first time he is hogging the limelight; when England toured India earlier this year, he had a dream series in which he amassed 351 runs in just 4 innings at an average of 117 and a strike-rate of 105.
Without a second thought, one can easily say that the 17-year-old likes scoring runs against the Poms. Adding to this, he was the only batsman to have scored a century in the recently-concluded tournament.
When asked about his heroics in the United Kingdom, he said he kept motivating himself to score runs after getting out to a bad shot in the first ODI.
"In the first match, I got out after getting set (scored 27). I played a really bad shot and got out. That night, I felt like I was in a good nick and said to myself that I should stay until the end. I kept myself motivated whenever I go to bat and kept scoring runs," he said.
Any teenager, after a performance like this, will set the bar really high. But, Shubman was humble and didn't want to rush his dream of playing for the Indian team. Though he has played few youth Test matches, he is yet to play in a single first-class match and wants to make a mark in the Ranji trophy if he gets a chance to play.
After that, he has already set his eyes on winning the 2018 under-19 World Cup, that will be taking place in New Zealand in January/February 2018.
He also pointed out that the team is in a good nick and the preparation for the tournament has been going well before adding that the tours to England, Malaysia and New Zealand before the big tournament will help in getting ready before the World Cup gets underway.
When asked about his goals, he said, "Right now, my short-term goal is to do well in the Ranji Trophy if I get a chance to play. The long-term goal will be the World Cup." When asked whether it is the youth World Cup or the men's World Cup, he quipped, "First the under-19 World Cup and then, the men's World Cup."
"I think the preparation has been very good. We have been playing matches against a lot of teams. First, we had the Asia Cup, then England came to India before we toured to the United Kingdom in return, we are playing a tournament in Malaysia in November. These matches give us an experience on how to approach our game and play under pressure," he added.
Shubman made a name for himself among the cricket aficionados in the country when he was just 14. As a 14-year-old, he along with Nirmal Singh, put on a record opening partnership of 587 runs with Nirmal in the ML Markan Trophy, Punjab's Inter-District U-16 cricket tournament.
When he was talking about this innings, he admitted, "At the start, I didn't know that I am this good. I was just playing normal cricket and this happened."
Later that season, he went on to win the MA Chidambaram trophy for the best under-16 cricketer in India. He also received the award in the following season (2014-15) and made a statement for himself.
In spite all his heroics, he is yet to make his Ranji debut for Punjab, but has gone onto play List A cricket for Punjab and India in the emerging players' Asia Cup. He also prefers the List A format when compared to the first-class format.
"More than the first-class format, I like playing List A matches. I have not played a single first-class match at the top level as I have made only my List A debut so far. Maybe, this time I will get a chance to play in the Ranji Trophy and I hope I get to know how it feels to play first-class cricket," he said.
He made his List A debut for Punjab in the Vijay Hazare trophy earlier this year and looked promising in the very few matches he scored. In his seven matches for Punjab, the right-hander has scored 247 runs at an average of 36 and scores at a rate of 79 runs per 100 balls.
His impressive show earned him a spot in the Indian side for the Emerging players' Asia Cup (under 23s), where he scored an unbeaten fifty against Malaysia, but unfortunately, India failed to make it to the next round after losing to Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.
To be fair, making his first-class debut at the age of 17 is a big thing and not many have done it in the past. But, his achievements in his career, which is yet to take-off, speak volumes.
Representing the country in the emerging players' tournament is not an easy thing as there are hundreds of cricketers who are competing for a spot in the side.If playing for India in an under-23 tournament as a 17-year-old is not a big achievement, then, I don't know what is one.
"There was a bit of pressure on me before my first game. When I go out to bat, I used to forget where I am playing, which tournament is going on. I just want to focus on the ball and play my natural game," he said when asked about playing for India in the emerging players' tournament.
The Punjab batsman is an aggressive top-order batsman, who likes to open the innings for his side, but is ready to bat in whichever position his team wants him to. He also pointed out that his ability to face medium pacers with ease is his biggest strength and he strives to work on his batting until the end after getting set.
"I am an opening batsman and in the under-19 matches and the List A matches for Punjab, I have been batting at number 3. I am a kind of player who likes to be aggressive and go for my shots. I have always found it easy to hit boundaries against the medium pacers in the first few (field restriction) overs.
"I prefer opening the batting. But, if the team wants me to bat at no. 3 or lower, I am ready to do that. Wherever I play and whichever team play for, I just want to make my team. The batting positions, competitions don't really matter to me as long as the team wins. No matter how much I score in the past, if I get set, I don't want to throw my wicket. I would like to improve on staying till the end and finishing the job for my team," the Jharkhand-born player said.
He might be an established cricketer at 18 and his fortune could change if he leads India to victory in the under-19 World Cup next year, but his journey to the top is not an easy one as his parents are forced to leave their native, where they had a family business, and move to Chandigarh so that he gets better facilities to improve his game and become a cricketer.
"My native, where I was born (Chak Khedevala, near Mukatsar, Jalalabad), is around 300 kms away from Chandigarh. It was difficult for me to grow as a cricketer there as there was no scope of the sport and no facility to train. We had a family business in our native and my parents decided to shift just for me and my career," he said.
It is not easy for a cricketer, who is about to turn 18 in a couple of weeks, to concentrate on both studies and cricket simultaneously. The case is no different with Shubman who never attended classes and just gives exams. But, fortunately for him, there is no pressure from his parents when it comes to studies as they always wanted him to excel as a cricketer.
He admitted, "It is a bit difficult for me to concentrate on both studies and cricket simultaneously. I don't attend classes, I only give exams. It has been very tough for me doing this because I have a lot to cope up with a lot. But, it's okay. Before the exams, I don't even know my subjects. Suddenly, I have to study a lot. Also, I don't have any pressure from my parents. They always want me to play and say I should get enough practice. I am blessed to get that kind of support from my parents."
After getting the attendance liberty from his school, Shubman's routine had just a few things, Eat, Gym, Practice, Yoga, Sleep. He has a bowling machine in the nets at his home and practices for 4-5 hours every single day in which he makes sure that he faces at least 500 balls from the machine apart from having gym and yoga sessions in between.
I used to train 4-5 hours everyday without taking a break. My father doesn't like me taking off days. The only days I won't be practicing are the days in which I have matches. I wake up at 6 AM in the morning, go to the gym, have my breakfast, practice from 9 AM-12 noon, go for lunch before ending the day a training session in the evening. We have a bowling machine in our nets and I used to bat against it every day. I play at least 500 balls per day in order to improve my game. In between these, I will have few meditation and yoga sessions to improve myself mentally, the youngster said about his training regime.
His father had a big role in him becoming a cricketer. Though Shubman grew an interest in the sport just by playing, his father, who has been his coach since childhood, used to teach him all the basics and always talks about the sport.
"When I was four or five, I used to like cricket a lot and started playing cricket for the first time and as the days passed by, my interest in the sport grew. 2-3 years later, I really wanted to be a cricketer. My father used to play the sport when he was young (just gully cricket in villages). He has been very passionate about the sport.
When I was young, he used to teach me a lot about cricket and he is my coach. Right from the start, my father wanted me to be a cricketer. All the time, he used to tell me what to do. He has been my coach since I started playing cricket," he narrated about how he grew an interest in the sport.
His father might be his first coach, but, when he started playing cricket, little he knew that he will be playing under the guidance of a legendary cricketer and earn praises from him. Playing under someone like Rahul Dravid is always a source of motivation and when he praises, it motivates him to work hard and improve on his game further.
He also conceded that it feels great to play under Dravid and he considers himself grateful to have got a chance to do so. In the recent series against England, Dravid didn't tour with the Indian under-19 side as he was asked to take care of the India A team that is in South Africa. In his absence, former Indian cricketer WV Raman was in-charge of the team and did a very good job.
"He (Dravid) doesn't go to every player and tell you have to do this, do that. But, when you reach out to him, he will explain you everything and help you out without any hesitation. It really feels great. It motivates you a lot if someone like Dravid sir praises you. It motivates you to become even more good and practice hard. I am very grateful to have played under his guidance and his influence in my game has helped me a lot in the past.
"In the recently concluded series, Dravid sir was not available. In his place, WV Raman sir and Abhay sir (fielding coach Abhay Sharma) guided us well. Raman sir has played a lot of cricket in their career and shared their experience with us and helped us how to approach our game. The whole team had a good time under Raman sir and I would like to thank him for the inputs he gave me in England," he shared about playing under different coaches.
Shubman, a fan of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, wants to emulate the stalwarts and knows that it is very difficult to maintain high standards.
"Obviously, my all-time favourite is Sachin Tendulkar. When I started watching cricket, he was a legend, he is still a legend and will remain one forever. But, now my favourite is Virat Kohli. I like his style, the way he carries himself and how he handles pressure. I would like to try and emulate him. It will be very difficult," he concluded.
Without a doubt, matching Kohli is a very difficult task, leave out emulating him as a player. But, with dedication towards the game, along with immense hard work, we could see Shubman in the same league as Kohli in the future.
Shubman is one of India's vital cogs going into the 2018 under-19 World Cup, which will be a big turning point in his career. A good run in the tournament irrespective of the end result will put him in a striking distance from making it to the national team.
Even if he plays well and leads India to victory in the tournament, he should not get carried away with the spotlight as Indian cricket has seen some talented cricketers losing their way after doing well in the under-19 World Cup.
Instead, he should take inspiration from his idol Kohli, try to stay grounded, work hard on his game and strive for success in International cricket.
Either way, the next 12-16 months will be very crucial for the youngster from Punjab, who has the potential to play for India in the future, Shubman Gill.