During the Kolkata Knight Riders preparatory camp in the UAE before the Indian Premier League, Shubman Gill’s long-time mentor and friend Khushpreet Singh would ask for a 10-feet- by-seven-feet piece of Kota stone for the young batsman’s practice sessions. Singh would throw down wet tennis and plastic balls for almost an hour to prepare Gill for the bounce and variable pace of Australian wickets in case he was selected for the tour.

On Tuesday, as the Indian team recorded a historic three-wicket win in Brisbane to win the Test series 2-1, Singh watched the highlights of Gill’s knock of 91 on loop. It reminded him of how the youngster had prepared mentally as well as technically for the biggest challenge of his career.

“Before nets every day, I would make him face bouncers and short-of-length balls aimed at the Kota stone slab placed in the middle of the wicket. Most of the focus was on the pull and punch shots. In India, Yuvraj Singh paaji too had shared his inputs about Australian wickets,” Khushpreet, one of the support staff for KKR, told The Indian Express.

Father’s role key

Singh was at the Mohali Cricket Association Academy during Gill’s early days there before an injury prompted him to turn into the latter’s mentor. He remembers how Gill’s father, Lakhwinder Singh made his son polish his backfoot game at a young age, which was evident during the series Down Under.

On Tuesday, it was Gill’s treatment of Mitchell Starc that set the tone for India’s victory. Gill would hit four boundaries and two sixes off the left-arm pacer, including an upper cut and pull for sixes.

Teammate recalls

Former India pacer and Gill’s Punjab teammate Manpreet Gony has bowled to Gill in the nets since his U-14 days and believes that his no-fear approach against fast bowlers from a young age makes him stand tall among his peers. “When I bowled to him at the nets, I could see no fear in his eyes. He would bat with such ease against pace. I remember him playing half-pull and backfoot punch to back-of-length deliveries at the Mohali nets when he was 15 years old. At that time too, he would sit with us and listen to the conversations among the bowlers and it helped him mature as a cricketer,” Gony, now the Punjab bowling coach, looks back.

Next assignment

England are coming for a four-Test series next month, and Gill has been named in the Indian team for the first two Tests. Singh believes that the more chances Gill would get, the more settled he will be and his natural flair will come through. “Playing at home against England spinners, who are doing well in Sri Lanka, will be a challenge which he will like to face. We have never made him play spin in the nets. We used a rough piece of land near his home and that has helped him step out of the crease naturally. It has also helped him develop the pull shot against spinners. I remember once he got out in the 300s and his father scolded him. The next match, he remained unbeaten on 410 runs and asked his father to reward him. He loves batting long,” shared Singh.

Proud family

At the Gill household in village Chak Kherewala near the India-Pakistan border in Punjab’s Ferozepur district, his grandparents 85-year-old Didar Singh Gill and Gurmail Kaur are waiting for him to come home. “When Shubman is not here, I keep looking at his old bats. Today, I watched him bat the whole morning. To see him bat on television will be my leisure-time activity in the coming years,” says Didar.

As for his grandmother Gurmail, she will be busy preparing Gill’s favourite food once he visits the village. “He likes churri with gud (jaggery) and he will have plenty of it when he comes home,” she said.

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