Pujara, the battling warrior, is hit and bruised by the fast bowlers not once or twice – but 11 times. He is first hit on the helmet by a Cummins bouncer. A while later another bouncer hits the side of Pujara’s helmet, causing the neck protector to fly out of its groove.
Then came a moment when it seemed like the breaking point. Pujara found himself in agonising pain as a Josh Hazlewood delivery smashed straight on his right glove. He threw his bat on the ground, removed his helmet and gloves and crashed on the ground. Everyone watching felt he would retire. But, Pujara isn’t one to leave a battle midway. He soldiered on for India’s cause.
At the other end, Gill was completely at ease dealing with the incessant short bowling. He took Starc to the cleaners, taking 20 runs off one over – pulling, hooking, cutting, punching off the backfoot with elan.
Since the time Gill made his debut in the second Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, his backfoot game has earned him praise from all quarters. While the backfoot punch is his signature shot, Gill seems to have that extra split second of time that allows him to judge the length of a ball quickly and be decisive in his foot movement. Ranging from the upper cut to the jab pull, Gill possesses every square-of-the-wicket shot in the batting dictionary.
So, how did Shubman develop his sound backfoot game?
Father Lakhwinder Singh may not be a professional cricketer, but his cricketing nous can give any top coach a run for his money. During his teenage years, Lakhwinder aspired to play for Punjab but lack of opportunities nipped his dream in the bud.
Shubman with his father and mother
He was Shubman’s first coach. “Shubman was interested in the sport since a very young age. Even when he was a kid, his favourite toy was a plastic bat. Seeing his interest in the game, I decided to train him myself,” Lakhwinder told TOI.
The Gills hail from Chak Khere Wala, a small village in Punjab’s Fazilka district. Lakhwinder knew he had to take a bold decision so that his son’s cricketing mettle doesn’t meet the same fate as his.
“Our village is about 300 kilometers away from Mohali. But due to the lack of facilities there we brought him here (in Mohali). We shifted to Mohali thinking it would give him access to better facilities and opportunities will open up for him,” recollects Lakhwinder.
Shubman was enrolled at the Mohali Cricket Academy, but father Lakhwinder always maintained a strict vigil. He employed various methods in order to improve his son’s game against fast bowling – especially short-pitched stuff.
“Since he was nine, I made him play 1500 short balls every day. To make him adept at handling fast bowling, I used to throw the ball over a manji (charpoy). The ball tends to travel faster after skidding off the charpoy. Besides that, he practiced with a single stump as his bat. That helped Shubman in finding the middle of the bat more often than not,” he said.
“Then a lot of time was spent practicing on matting pitches. The extra bounce that matting provides forces you to get in line and try to achieve the correct position. Batsmen who have played on matting pitches develop the ability to play on the backfoot, which is so essential for any higher level of cricket.”
At the Mohali Cricket Academy, Shubman – many a times – got the chance to pad up to Punjab’s top fast bowlers.
“Since he was in his early teens, Shubman faced Punjab’s leading fast bowlers like Manpreet (Gony) paaji, Harmeet Singh Bansal at the MCA nets. That also played a role in his development.”