‘Shubman is the next superstar of world cricket’: Karsan Ghavri recalls when he nurtured an 11-yr-old Shubman Gill

“Beta, darr lage toh bata dena (Son, tell me if you are scared),” the former India pacer Karsan Ghavri remembers telling a 11 year old Shubman Gill about to face to pacers in their late teens. “He politely replied mai khel loonga (I will play),” Ghavri recalls with a laugh.

Ghavri was then leading the BCCI’s pace bowling academy at the Mohali cricket stadium. A day before, for 15 minutes, he had observed Gill playing at a small ground opposite the stadium, and told Shubman’s father Lakhwinder to bring the boy next day to the nets at the stadium.

“My serious cricket began with Ghavri sir,” Gill has told this newspaper. “He really helped me a lot. The bowlers were about 18-20 years old, and I was very young. He was so patient with me, kept talking to me on how to approach different bowlers, how to develop game awareness, about fitness, how to adapt to different pitches.”

Ghavri retrieves a few visuals from his memory bank. “We had 15 pacers in the age group of 17-19 years. Sandeep Sharma, Ankit Rajpoot, were in that camp. We used to give each of them a new ball to bowl every day, and Shubman used to face all of them without any fear … The way he was facing the new ball, right from that age, he looked a natural. He had the temperament and skill to handle the new ball. With every passing day, I learned something new about him, be it his quick hand-eye coordination, his wrist-work or the front-foot pull shot, and above all, the fearless approach,” Ghavri tells The Indian Express.

“For an eleven-year-old, he looked like a very, very serious guy. Very quiet kid, he looked like a studious young fellow. He was very much into the game. And he has a very cool, good head on his shoulder, and is disciplined,” recalls Ghavri. “He was a delight to watch and nothing has changed in the last twelve years. The penchant for scoring big runs is still there, and he still looks like someone who respects the game. I threw him deep in the ocean, and he started swimming and I hope he keeps swimming and conquers all the currents out there,” laughs Ghavri.

After returning from Mohali, Ghavri kept a tab on Shubman, till he finally saw his name in the India U-19 World Cup squad. Naturally, the first reaction was “The world will see the talent now”.

This IPL has seen Shubman Gill transform into a six-hitting machine. He was No. 42 in the list of six-hitters in IPL 2022, but has walloped 33 sixes this year, the joint-second-highest with Shivam Dube and only behind Faf du Plessis’ 36.

Ghavri points out how his batting grip helps Gill to get those elevations.

“See, he is not a bottom-handed player. His grip is top hand, and I think that grip, stance, and nimble footwork have helped him master the art of six-hitting. Those with the top hand grip will always get those elevations, and we have seen that in Shubman’s batting,” he says.

After scoring his third century in four innings, Gill talked about how he plays down people’s expectations: “It doesn’t matter when you make your way into the playing field. Everything goes blank.”

Ghavri adds finer details about that process of internal management in the modern-day players.

“I don’t think in the modern day cricketers think about expectations. They prepare themselves match by match. They don’t care; they don’t go back in history and their performances. They play as per the team’s requirements. Sometimes you will fail, but as long as you are giving your 100 per cent with your genuine effort, it’s absolutely fine,” he says.

Ghavri then adds an important trait he now sees in Gill. “The potential was always there, now I can see the hunger to do well not only for his personal glory, there’s an eagerness to win matches for his team. This is what makes him different.”

Ghavri was one of many former cricketers who thought that Gill should have been drafted into the senior side right after his performance in the U-19 World Cup. But he believes the grind in domestic cricket has made him hungrier than ever.

“After India U-19, he started playing Ranji Trophy for Punjab. He scored consistently. He has done the hard yards, which has helped him grow as a cricketer.”

Gill is in the middle of a purple patch. In international cricket this year, he has one Test century, three ODI centuries, including a double and one T20I century. Cut to the IPL, and he has the Orange Cap now, for a total of 851 runs so far, scored at an average of 60.78 and strike rate of 156.43.

There was a phase after his famous 91 at Gabba when Gill did face a slump. “Slump of form will happen. Greatest of all, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Brian Lara, Steve Waugh, Clive Lloyd, Sir Garfield Sobers, there are many who went through that bad phase. But they worked even harder during that phase and made remarkable comebacks. So did Gill.”

Ghavri still shares a very good relationship with Gill. He hates it when people talk about flaws in Gill’s technique.

“Don’t confuse him with technical stuff. Just leave him to play, score and, most importantly, leave him alone. Khaamiyan nikalne ki jaroorat nahi hai (There is no point pointing out the mistakes),” he says. “He is the next superstar for India and world cricket. He is still in the making but has taken those massive strides towards greatness.”