- Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
Shubman Gill was about to turn in when he was woken up by “a storm of messages” in the wee hours of the night. “Then I saw that I have been selected with Vijay Shankar for the Indian team,” he told ESPNcricinfo on Sunday. Gill will join the team in New Zealand for the ODIs and T20Is, starting from January 23.
His first act was to go to the next room, where his parents were sleeping. “I woke my father up to tell him. He was up as soon as I told him.”
Gill’s first call-up to the national squad may have come in unexpected circumstances – with India forced to replace Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul – but it’s something Indian cricket watchers had expected would happen, sooner rather than later. Yuvraj Singh, his Punjab team-mate, had said last week, “He (Gill) is a special talent. After a long time there is a young guy whose batting I like to watch. He is very exciting. After the 2019 World Cup, he can make it to the (Indian) side.”
The sudden vacancies in the squad have meant Gill could make Yuvraj’s prediction come much sooner. He makes an attractive package – a classical batsman who has all the shots and can also adapt his game to all formats without changing his style of play. Plus he has recent experience of touring New Zealand. “Yes, I think that will be an advantage,” he says. “I am familiar with the conditions because I have just travelled there [with the India A squad]. I also played the Under-19 World Cup there last year.”
Naturally, Gill is looking forward to joining the team: “My only goal is that I don’t want to let the opportunity go if I get selected in the XI”. And he is eager to be a part of the dressing room alongside Virat Kohli, among others. “I’ll just see how he practises, the way he does his fitness work. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone in the team.”
The 19-year-old also draws confidence from how Prithvi Shaw, his Under-19 captain, made a spectacular debut for the senior team with a Test century. “It felt really nice to see him. He batted really well, a century in your very first innings, that too in international cricket… We used to sit and think or discuss ‘How will international cricket be?’ And he has played with us, so watching him succeed we also get the confidence that we can do it as well.”
This time last year, Gill was on his way to becoming Man of the Tournament in India’s victorious Under-19 World Cup run. Between that and his imminent trip to New Zealand as part of the senior team, the top-order batsman showed he could also play finisher, even on a stage as big as the IPL, and has built a first-class record so good that he’s about to become an international cricketer nearly 14 months after making his first-class debut.
He’s only played nine matches but there hasn’t been a single one in which he’s failed to score at least fifty. He went past 1,000 runs in just his 15th innings, and averages 77.78. Further evidence of his dominance is a strike-rate of 77.28.
“I think batting at No. 7 [for KKR] was new to me, and I learnt a lot of things. Our coaches and seniors really helped me. They all told me that I don’t have to hit every ball, but I should know certain areas that are my strength and keep those”
Gill’s first innings upon return from India A’s tour of New Zealand in December was a monumental 268 against Tamil Nadu. In the next match, he made 148 as Punjab nearly pulled off a chase of 338 in the fourth innings. They finished 324 for 8 in 57 overs. While Gill agrees that the century against Hyderabad was his “best innings ever in the Ranji Trophy”, he knows that it is not because of one knock that he is on the cusp of achieving his childhood dream of playing for India.
That fact may also have to do with the new dimension to his game that he added during the season with Kolkata Knight Riders. “I think batting at No. 7 was new to me, and I learnt a lot of things,” Gill says. “Our coaches and seniors really helped me. They all told me that I don’t have to hit every ball, but I should know certain areas that are my strength and keep those. First when we were having nets with KKR, and it was the first big T20 tournament I was playing, I used to hit every ball. Then after observing me for two-three sessions, Robin bhaiyya [Uthappa] came and told me, ‘You have to pick your areas, and the ball which you think are good balls, just try to rotate the strike, or you can defend it’.”
Check out what Amol Muzumdar and WV Raman have to say about Shubman Gill, the 18-year old who was the leading run scorer for India Under-19 in their tour of England
Gill’s maturity in handling the back-end of T20 innings after having been a top-order player could prove handy considering India are looking for options there. He attributes his adaptability to a childhood spent playing with older kids who often used their seniority to bat ahead of him. “I don’t think I worked on this, it’s something that comes to me very naturally because I started playing when I was quite young,” Gill says. “When you are younger and play with people who are four or five years older, it comes with that. I used to play Under-14s when I was ten, then Under-16s when I was 13-14.”
Gill has the potential to have a very long career for India, according to KKR’s assistant coach Abhishek Nayar. “When I look at him, I always get the feeling that he’s someone who should play for India for eight to ten years at least,” Nayar says. “I feel he is ready to play for India right now. I’ve spent a lot of time with young cricketers, but the understanding that he has about his game, his technique, what he does when he’s batting well, what he does when he’s not batting well – it’s tremendous. You sit and watch a video with him, he can tell you exactly what he’s done.
“A lot of maturity, with a good mix of youth and exuberance – that’s the feeling I get in terms of how much time he has when he bats, his attitude towards training. Kudos to his father and family for the kind of support and effort they put in his development. Not everyone is that fortunate, his father has sacrificed a lot for him. And to credit Shubman, he understands that. As children sometimes we don’t understand what our parents have done for us, but he does. He has gratitude for his parents and upbringing, so I feel he’s a well-balanced kid with a very, very bright future ahead of him.”