There is a certain calmness in how Shubman Gill prepares for big occasions. He is soft-spoken, humble, and a well-mannered kid, but set him free on the cricket field, and you will see the fire burn. Skim through some footage from the India v Pakistan game in last year's Under-19 World Cup, and you'll know what we are talking about.
Following his maiden call up to join Team India for the limited-overs series in New Zealand, Shubman spent a week at KKR Academy, honing his skills under the tutelage of Abhishek Nayar and Omkar Salvi.
He batted long sessions, which, at times, would even stretch beyond three hours. At the end of it though, he would either calmly watch the others bat from the sidelines, or if there was space for a net bowler, come bowl a few of his off-spinners. One thing is for sure, it's difficult to keep Shubman away from the game, and that, in fact, is a testimony to his love and respect for the sport.
The past 12 months have been a roller-coaster ride for the youngster. Last year, at this time, he was part of an Indian side that took the ICC Under-19 World Cup by storm, steamrolling every side that was pitted against them in their journey to the title. An IPL contract with KKR followed, and after good performances for India A, and Punjab in the domestic season, the icing on the cake arrived in the form of a place in the senior team.
We caught up with Gill for a freewheeling chat moments before he flew out to New Zealand. Excerpts:
Years of hard work leading up to a national call up - How does it feel?
SG: I’m feeling very good about it. All the hard-work I’ve done seems to be paying off. The real journey begins here.
You are joining Virat Kohli’s Team India - Excited or Nervous?
SG: To be honest, I’m both excited and nervous at the same time. Excited, because I’m joining that setup for the first time. Nervous, because again, it’s my first time, so I don’t know how the environment will be like.
I am really looking forward to meeting him (Kohli), having a chat with him, and closely looking at the way he practices for games.
I think because of him, a lot of trends have changed in Team India. Fitness levels have changed for most players, and India is one of the best fielding sides in the world right now.
All these things are very important. When your role is purely of a batsman or a bowler, it's possible that two out of five games, you could fail to impress. So you need to find other ways to contribute to your team. These are really important aspects of cricket.
From that perspective, how helpful has the KKR Academy been to your preparations?
SG: It has been really helpful. The wickets, the bowlers - the practice regime has been great. Back home, where we generally practice, we don’t get good tracks to bat on consistently. After a week or two, the pitch wears out a bit.
But here, almost every day, we practiced on different grounds and pitches. The conditions were great here (in Mumbai), and also in Bangalore (in July).
Plus, the open-net sessions, playing different kinds of bowlers. These things help a lot, and all the sessions have been quite fruitful.
Can you tell us more about your interactions with Abhishek Nayar?
SG: It’s been very nice, and quite enjoyable. For example, when I came here, my dad was travelling with me. He (Nayar) insisted on meeting him, to know more about my game, and about my childhood.
They spoke at length, and then, during practice, he suggested some minor changes that he felt would help my batting.
The pitches are a bit damp in the morning, so he made me practice there a lot. We’ve actually got great practice in different conditions under him. We have played on spinning tracks, and then on nice, seaming pitches that had good bounce. So overall, it’s been great.
You spoke about your father travelling with you. Can you tell us a bit more about his contribution in your journey…
SG: It has been tremendous. He left everything for my cricket. He left his parents' house, and then he shifted to Chandigarh for me. That in itself must have been so hard.
He used to go back to the village only when there was some gap in my training, or when I would be playing matches out of town.
When I was in Chandigarh, there was hardly a day when he wasn’t by my side. Even if he had important work, he wouldn’t go.
He saw it this way - if I had four-five days of constant practice, he would stay on to keep track of my progress. So yeah, he has been very supportive, and that’s surely helped me a lot.
Are you in regular touch with your father even when on tour?
SG: Yes, I constantly speak to him on the phone. When I’m practicing in the nets, I make videos of my batting and send them to him.
He guides me accordingly. He doesn’t say a lot, but he points out certain things. For example, during the domestic season, he told me he had noticed I’ve stopped stepping out to spinners.
He asked me to bring that aspect back to my game. Not necessarily to step out and whack, it could even be to just tap the ball away, since it’s my natural style.
He told me: If you don’t play according to your natural game, how will you score your runs?
Even when I was in New Zealand, these are the kind of chats we have - How is your batting going? How many times did you get out at the nets? Things like that.
Coming back to the topic of joining the senior team - you seem to be having a blooming love story with New Zealand!
SG: Absolutely, yes. Just last year, I was playing in New Zealand (at the Under-19 CWC) at this time of the year, and now, my first senior team call-up has also come for the series vs New Zealand.
I think that lends me certain advantages too. Even the last time when I was there (for India A), I managed to do well.
I have had some great memories of New Zealand. The conditions, the pitches and the weather - I hope that awareness will help me. The first match of the series is in Napier, and we’ve played quite a few games there.
I know the grounds quite well - the outfield, the wickets and the weather. So yeah, that should help.
Mt. Maunganui in Tauranga is the venue for the second and third ODIs. That has certainly been a special ground for you in many ways...
SG: Yes, definitely. I have a special connection with that ground. We won our first game (of U-19 CWC) there, we also beat Australia in the final there.
I have some very good memories on that ground. Even for India A, we won all three matches we played there.
Whenever I have gone to the ground after the World Cup, I have only got good vibes from it.
What is your impression of Lockie Ferguson, who is also going to be a part of the KKR setup in IPL 2019?
SG: He is really quick, and he can generate some really good speed. Even the fuller deliveries - he bowls them with great pace.
Normally, pacers put a lot of power behind bouncers. But Lockie generates good power even with his yorkers. He bowls well with the new ball too, so I think he will be a good weapon for us (in the IPL).
Lastly, New Zealand is well-known for adventure sports, and beautiful landscape. Have you tried anything touristy when you've been on tour?
SG: Actually, during the U-19 World Cup, we got to know that as per the BCCI’s contract, players are not allowed to participate in any extreme sports (when on tour).
Also, I’m not into bungee jumping etc. because I am scared of heights. So I wasn’t keen, to start with.