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‘Never a gifted cricketer, but the hardest worker in the room’: Friends and teammates talk about the evolution of Shubman Gill

When he walks out to play in the first ODI against Australia at the PCA stadium in Mohali on September 22, it will be the first time Shubman Gill will be playing at his home venue as an India international. He has played at the arena for Punjab, for various teams in IPL, but never in his blue India jersey.

Would he get sentimental or act cool about it? His Punjab team-mate Mayank Markande, who has known him since U-14 days, gives a hint. “He will start laughing. He tries to play cool all the time, but he is not!” laughs Markande.

A sentiment shared by Shubman’s childhood coach Sukhwinder Tinku, who tells a revealing story.

“He is so innocent. Once, after training for six months, without informing me, he didn’t show up for two weeks. When he returned, I asked him, ‘Where were you?’ He said, ‘Sir pind gaya tha (I had gone to my village)’. In a rude way I told him “Yahaan kya kar raha? Phir se chala ja (What are you doing here? Go back again). With tearful eyes, he took his kit and slowly started going back. I rushed towards him, gave him a tight hug, and it took me 30 minutes to convince him that it was only a joke,” said Tinku.

A ‘cool cat’ who actually cares. Is the fitness maniac, who can spread envy via his Instagram gym posts, very finicky about his diet or is that also a false notion?

“Kuch bhi khaata hai (He eats everything),” the friend Markande says. “He is so fit, but he eats all the junk. It surprises me all the time.” Recently Markande spent a week with Shubman at the National Cricket Academy (NCA), where he was called up as a net bowler for India before the Asia Cup. “In Bengaluru, when we went out for dinner, he ate all kinds of junk food. I asked him how he was in such great shape. He only laughed. The next morning, he was first in the gym and by the time everyone was there, he had already finished his one session,” says Markande.

Presumably, neither checked their phones during the Bangalore dinners. As another friend, the Punjab offspinner Jassinder Singh details a condition that Shubman demands from his friends, when having a meal together.

“Jo phone check karega wo bill bharega (The one checking the phone will pay the bill),” says Jassinder about Shubman’s rule.

Jassinder reveals another unknown facet about Shubman Gill, a trait that has been acquired recently.

“As a person, he has not changed much but a recent switch is that he has started talking about spirituality. He has started meditating. He has gone into a monk zone. You need that in cricket and especially for him, because an Indian cricketer is always under pressure from all corners,” says Jassinder. Apparently, Shubman has also been talking not just the internals of his mind, but of the environment as well. “When we met in Chandigarh before the Asia Cup, he was talking about IEQ (Indoor Environment Quality) and IAQ (Indoor Air Quality),” Jassinder shares.

Gill Shubman Gill playing for the domestic side. (FILE)

The IAQs, presumably, are in order when he plays his FIFA game, that he still can spend a lot of time on. Markande, who was with him in Bangalore NCA, has a humorous take on it.

“He loves playing FIFA, and he is yet to win a game against me. And he plays the legacy one, where you don’t have to do much; just keep pressing the buttons. But still, he will end up losing!” And Markande adds with a laugh, “A sore loser too; he will always make excuses!”.

Gill takes his revenge on Markande on the cricket field. “He always picks my googly and will make my life miserable. Apni rivalry U-14 se chali aa rahi hai (Our rivalry is going on since the U-14 days). We argue in the nets if it is a boundary or not. In Punjab’s Ranji Trophy camp, he will try to bowl his floater, and I will try to whack him all the time!”

Shubman had bowled against Australia in the Ahmedabad Test and it wasn’t something new to those who know him. “He used to bowl a lot during his U-19 cricket days,” Markande says. “Once, he got me out on 90 in one of the U-19 inter-district matches and he still talks about it. He got a fifer in that match and will keep reminding me that he could have become a better spinner than me, but he chose batting.

“People always say that he is a very gifted batsman, but he was never a gifted cricketer. He has worked hard on his game,” says Markande.

That’s a trait that people who know him well often say. Like Punjab’s all-rounder Ramandeep Singh, who also knows him from when they were young.

“You will see a different Shubman in every game. Right from a very young age, one thing that was very unique in him was that he was a quick learner. He keeps improving himself.

“If he gets out cheaply, he will see the videos, try to analyse the technical glitch and will straightaway work on his technique. In the very next match you will see how he has worked on his shortcomings.,” says Ramandeep.

Not just in developmental years, but even after he stepped up into the big league. Ramandeep explains how Gill has changed his game in the last one and a half years.

“He was never a six-hitter. Earlier, he used to bat risk-free. In T20s also, his strike rate used to hover around 120. He will always try to play along the ground. But now his strike rate has gone to 150. Six hitting didn’t come naturally to him. He has worked on it,” says Ramandeep.

Time will tell if Shubman Gill smacks a few sixes at his home venue against the Australians, but the hopes are high. In fact, his mentor of sorts the Punjab player Gurkeerat Mann nails down the significance of the PCA stadium in his career.

Gurkeerat says, getting the taste of playing in an International stadium when he was only 12 has played a vital role in the development of Shubman Gill.

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“Since his U-14 days, he has played in the Mohali stadium and that’s what makes him different from the cricketers of his age. He has played in an International stadium,” says Mann.

A sensitive young man who likes to play cool, a youth who is now dabbling in spirituality, a competitive sportsman who gripes at losses at FIFA game, a friend who prefers genuine chat rather than fritter away on phone will be now playing his first game as an India cricketer at home.

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Will there be any pressure on Shubman? Jassinder replies, “I have never seen him stressed. In junior days, when the pressure used to be immense – if you don’t perform, you will be thrown out of the squad – even then he used to be pretty relaxed. I don’t think he will go with a different mindset. The Shubman I have known for the past fifteen years will try to score a century.”

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