Last week, Shubman Gill stood in the middle of the PCA Stadium in Mohali, his home ground, and spoke about his dream of playing an international match there. He would go on to smash 74 off 63 balls in the first ODI against Australia and play a hand in India becoming the second team in men’s history to occupy the No. 1 spot across formats.
The world is a small place these days. Less than five kilometres away from the very stadium where Gill dazzled his home crowd with an array of breathtaking shots, is Sukhwinder Singh Tinku’s cricket academy - the place where Gill’s dreams first started taking shape.
‘Tinku’ lives his dreams through his students. He is not one to make tall claims; he is happy to give his wards the foundation and then watch them grow into decent players and good human beings. Lessons in life are as much an integral part of his teaching as the basic cricket process that he imparts at his academy located in Paragon Senior Secondary School in Mohali.
It was here that an eight-year-old Shubman Gill came to meet Tinku. “He was accompanied by his father [Lakhwinder Singh Gill]. His father was keen that he join our coaching classes. I was stunned to learn from him that Shubman was given a piece of homemade bat carved from a tree trunk by his grandfather, and he would middle every ball. His father used a chatai (straw mat) to simulate pace and bounce. The middle of the blade had a ball-sized dent. That convinced Lakhwinder ji to encourage his son to play cricket. That was the beginning,” says Tinku, sitting in his compact room at the academy. To help Shubman achieve his goals, Lakhwinder shifted to Chandigarh from their village, Chak Khehrewala in Ferozepur District, in 2007.
Former Indian fast bowler Bhupinder Singh (Sr) praises Tinku’s ability to teach the basics effectively to young students aged 8 to 12. Once these players are ready for competitive cricket, Tinku encourages them to pursue their dreams independently. Shubman followed a similar path.
Shubman was like any other trainee for Tinku, but his exceptional talent quickly set him apart. The coach noticed Shubman’s sharpness, impeccable timing, and overall game, which seemed destined for a higher level. Shubman’s rapid learning and dedication delighted Tinku, prompting him to provide extra attention to the budding batsman. In those early days, Tinku marvelled at Shubman’s innate understanding of the sport. He was quick to rectify mistakes that were pointed out, spending long hours in the nets. What impressed Tinku the most was Shubman’s confidence and the fact that he never wasted time during his academy sessions.
Tinku emphasised the importance of scoring big runs to Shubman, encouraging him to catch the selectors’ attention by consistently performing against all oppositions. “I remember there was a district match on the ground outside the PCA Stadium. He made a century and played a casual shot. The catch was dropped. At the break, I advised him not to be satisfied by just a century. I told him to get to 150. He made a 150. And then 200. Gradually, he went on to make a 300. He quickly learned that big scores would make him known all over the country, not just Punjab. He was 14 and ready to step into the big league,” says Tinku.
Shubman (351), playing for Mohali, shared a 587-run opening partnership with Nirmal Singh (267) in that Inter-District U-16 match against Amritsar at the IS Bindra PCA Stadium.
Even at such a young age, Shubman displayed remarkable dedication to his training. He faced the bowling machine for nearly an hour every day at the academy, regardless of the weather. “Lakhwinder would accompany his son to Mohali twice a day, patiently waiting for him to finish,” Tinku recalls. “After each training session, his father bowled throw-downs to him for another 30-45 minutes.”
Shubman also benefited from his association with former India all-rounder Yuvraj Singh, who took him under his wing. Once he graduated to Punjab’s senior men’s team, Yuvraj guided Shubman on how to build a season and stay focused. The fact that they hail from the same city helped. “It was before the series in Australia (in 2020). I told him to bolster his defence because you need solid front-foot defence against good fast bowlers. I requested Sachin (Tendulkar), Shubman’s idol, also to speak with him. Sachin told him the same, sharing his experience of playing against the Aussies,” remembers Yuvraj. Shubman went on to have a memorable outing Down Under; his counterattacking 91 in the fourth and final Border-Gavaskar Test inflicting Australia’s first defeat at the Gabba since 1988.
Former India fast bowler Karsan Ghavri, too, played a role in Gill’s career. More than a decade ago, Ghavri was overseeing the BCCI pace bowlers’ academy in Mohali. During an U-19 camp, he struggled to find young batters. Initially, they conducted drill sessions in the indoor facility, but after a week, Ghavri realised there were no batters available to face the pacers. He requested the Punjab Cricket Association for U-16, U-19, or U-23 batters to help.
Gill was consumed by his love for the sport. When not training at the academy in Mohali, he would play tennis-ball cricket. “Around this time, I remember it was raining one day and there was leakage in the indoor facility, so we had to stop our practice sessions. Assistant coach Yoginder Puri and I walked across the road to this huge ground, which hosts PCA’s district games, and saw some kids playing in the rain. One young boy caught my attention because of his batting style, and that kid was Shubman,” Ghavri says. Moments later, Ghavri walked up to a gentleman sitting outside the boundary.
“I asked him whether he knew about this boy who was batting so well. To my surprise, he replied, ‘Woh mera beta hai (he is my son).’ I told him not to allow Shubman to play tennis ball cricket and insisted on bringing him on board for our camp,” Ghavri recollects.
“Shubman was just 11 or 12, and I wanted him to face our U-19 fast bowlers. He came to our camp the next day, and over the next few days, he gelled so well with our group that he started training with our boys. Every day, he would bat for an hour. During the camp, the U-19 bowlers were given a fresh, new ball every day, and he faced some of the promising young bowlers, including Sandeep Sharma and Baltej Singh. He played them really well,” Ghavri says.
Ghavri asked Sushil Kapoor, the academy’s administrative manager at the time, to place Gill in the U-14 squad for Punjab. Gill’s impressive performances there led to his inclusion in Punjab’s age-group teams. He also played a significant role in India’s U-19 World Cup victory in 2018 and secured an IPL contract with the Kolkata Knight Riders the same year.
What do Ghavri and Tinku expect from Shubman going forward? “I would love to see him maintain his aggression at the crease.
He is a performer, and that is what I want him to remember. I am sure he will emerge as India’s leading player at the World Cup,” Tinku says.
For Ghavri, Gill, the “next superstar of Indian cricket,” can go far if he remains grounded.
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