Mumbai, January 14: Shubman Gill's Instagram opens a small window to his life. There are pics of a kid Gill enjoying birthday cake with his family, one from his pre-teen days holding a bat and getting ready to face a bowler, a loving son kissing his mother (Kirat Gill), a caring brother to sister Shahneel Kaur Gill, lot of swimming pool clicks and some around his cricketing journey.
But two videos stand out.
1. Gill is being presented the trophy for best Under-16 male cricketer of 2014-15 during a BCCI award night. In attendance are MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli along with rest of the team. Now, he is playing alongside Kohli for India and had played against Dhoni in the IPL.
2. He is dancing with Kolkata Knight Riders, his IPL team, co-owner Shahrukh Khan. While his moves on the dance floor might not win him a dance reality show, but they surely have won many admirers around the cricket world during the two Tests he has played during the ongoing Test series in Australia. The one word that can describe him is - pure.
Gill is 21 and has spent formative years in an era dominated by T20 theatrics. The mushrooming of T20 leagues around the world, especially IPL, has given rise to the six hitting generation of batsmen who have gone about their game thinking about an IPL contract.
Gill is different. The two Tests in Australia offers pointers too. Imagine being a 21-year-old asked to open the innings in your debut Test after the team had suffered the humiliation of being dismissed for 36 in the previous Test. In the opposition are two of the world's best fast bowlers, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, ace off-spinner Nathan Lyon and a not too bad speedster - Mitchell Starc.
If anything, Gill's task was harder, considering the team management had dumped Prithvi Shaw after just two failures in Adelaide. And by the time the second Test has arrived Mayank Agarwal, the No 1 opener when the tour started, too was on the benches. Welcome to international cricket Mr Gill.
Gill started his Test career with a 45 in 65-balls, an innings that lasted 104 minutes. The purity of his technique caught the eye. His forward defence against Lyon was text-book perfect - a big stride forward, knees bent, bat close to the pad and the ball meeting the bat with gentleness. Against Cummins, Gill was punching both on the front-foot and off the back-foot. Against Hazlewwod, who more often than not is accurate, he was leaving with confidence and against the short-ball of Starc, the right-hander displayed the calmness of a veteran.
But a better innings was on our way in the Sydney Test. India were battling to save the Test with a 400+ mountain to climb. Gill pulled and cut his was to a 50. Sunil Gavaskar said: "This innings from Gill confirmed that he is the brightest prospect for India in the future."
Former India and Mumbai all-rounder Abhishek Nayar has seen Gill from close quarters as his batting guru. Nayar is not surprised one bit with Gill's efforts in Melbourne and Sydney.
"Longer format is something that he has always enjoyed. I know it sounds different given this is the era of T20 cricket. He is someone who believes in need of a technique to survive in any format. Even while playing in IPL, he always enjoys talking about the correct technique. He has always been working on playing good looking drives, cuts and pulls. He knows how to use technique as a platform to excel. That's the reason everyone who sees him for the first time, me included, are in awe with his batting.
"He has that extra time on hand that also helps him play swing well, which is a rare commodity in players in today's time. Besides being elegant, he is also powerful and this aspect will keep improving with time. A lot of credit should go to his parents, especially his father who has put in a lot of time into making Shubman the player he is today, both in term of his game and also how he carries himself," Nayar tells MyKhel.
It's important to talk about the father here. Lakhwinder Singh always wanted his son to become a cricketer and to achieve that he shifted to Mohali, the epicentre of cricket in Punjab, from Fazilka. He wanted become a cricketer but couldn't and thus wanted to live it through his son. He became Gill's first coach, inculcating the right habits in his son.
"Before he came to Mumbai after the 2108 IPL and met me, the first thing I wanted to do was get to know what has gone into the making of Shubman Gill till that time. I wanted to do that before I could suggest him anything in terms of his cricket. So, I called asked him to also bring his father along, and I spend four days with his father just getting to know the background. What I got to know was that his father always wanted Gill to play the correct way. He never let him pick bad habits or push to play just the big shots or lure him towards the money/glamour of the IPL.
"That way his father is the backbone of what Gill is today. You see it happens a lot of times that you grow up and you start thinking that your father is not the smartest guy around, you look outside and start listening to everyone. But Gill knows how to pick and choose. He understood his game very early in his life and only listens to someone whom he trusts. He respects views and listens to them, but only follows what's best for him," says Nayar.
The way Gill merges skill and aesthetics has please fans and pundits. Nayar is not surprised when he says, "In any player, I look for how much time that they have while playing fast bowling and their ability to rotate the strike against spinners. When I first met Gill in 2018, I asked him bit about what he has been doing in terms of his cricket thus far and he told me that IPL is the first time he has played T20.
"And because he has always played long form or 50-over cricket, his game was very well rounded. Being from Punjab, where ball swings a lot during the harsh winter months, he was adept at playing the moving ball. What has also impressed me was the amount of time he had while negotiating the short ball. That is where he gets those gorgeous cuts and pulls against fast bowlers.
"I think he has that gift to read the ball early. What impressed me was his level-headedness and work ethics. At this young age he can be a role model for his peers and those junior to him on how to handle oneself both on and off the field. It happens that you see very skilful cricketers but they might lack the will to work hard, but with Gill it is always about the desire to become a better player," he notes.
In this era of T20, batsmen could be eager to smash everything out of the park to impress the scouts, thereby skills like negotiating a good spinner are in danger of extinction. But Gill has been decisive against Lyon and the Aussies seemed to be a bit surprised by the youngster's confidence.
Nayar wasn't. "He can play spin really well. We saw how well he played Rashid Khan during the IPL. He has got a great initial movement and he is very compact in his manner of approaching the ball. He wants to defend the ball, and that is something he has trained himself to do. This is something that a lot of players today don't want to do, as it's not how they have moulded their game.
"But having said that, Gill can also dominate the game with his stroke-play against fast bowlers. You are bound to develop some good habits when you have spent all your childhood batting six hours a day and facing thousands of balls. He has this nice balance between defence and aggression. It's very difficult for him to look ugly," he explains.
Gill has got the start, but the bigger challenge for him is to make it count. India has seen several talents fall by the wayside. Nayar hopes the team management gives Gill time and space to bloom.
"Gill is a very secure and clear person in his mind about what works for him. He has got leadership qualities and if the team management shows faith in him, he will not only play for India but will also produce cricketers for India for next 10 years. One needs to show faith in him and not expect the world from him way too early. He is an old-school player capable of delivering in all the formats. He has the rare gift of skill and good work ethics and has this desire to work hard without being pushed by someone," Nayar says.
Indian cricket fans will be hoping that Nayar's wish is granted.