New Delhi: Imagine being Yash Dhull, who was on the brink of missing the biggest tournament of his promising career due to COVID-19, days after starring in India’s U-19 World Cup opener.
Having experienced the worst symptoms out of the five players who tested positive on the eve of the second U19 World Cup game against Ireland, the captain ended up missing the remaining leagues games.
It would be normal for any teenager to feel shattered under the circumstances but here was Dhull, who resorted to shadow batting in his seven day isolation in Trinidad besides visualising himself on how he would play in the matches against Ireland and Uganda.
The scheduling of the quarterfinal also helped as he along with others were able to recover in the nick of time for the quarterfinal against Bangladesh where he made a crucial 20 not out in a low-scoring affair.
The 19-year-old from the busy Janakpuri neighbourhood in West Delhi, followed that up with a match-winning hundred in the semifinals.
NCA chief VVS Laxman, who guided the victorious squad in the Caribbean, played a massive role in taking care of the COVID hit players including Dhull.
It was the assurance from the India batting great which helped Dhull’s parents relax after getting to know about his COVID-19 infection.
“Laxman sir called us from there and assured us of our son’s safety. He even shared his personal number and said ‘call me if you have any concerns’. That was the assurance we needed at a time like that,” Vijay Dhull told PTI recalling the tough week for his son.
“Yash was obviously disappointed on missing out but as he is mentally very strong. He could get by that phase. We, as a family, made a conscious effort to not talk about cricket and just asked him about his health and diet like we do usually,” said his father, who has a “regular” job in the beauty industry.
Cricketers from Delhi, especially from the western part of the capital, are known from their unabashed aggression and mental toughness.
Virat Kohli is an epitome of that and Dhull, who wants to be like Indian cricket’s super star, too relied on his steely resolve to make a remarkable comeback from COVID.
Rajesh Nagar, who has been his coach for 10 years at Delhi’ Bal Bhawan School Cricket Academy in Dwarka, also revealed what kept Dhull going in isolation.
“He was quite dejected but I told him to take it is an injury and not COVID and ‘think as if you have taken rest for two games’. I told him prepare for knockouts.
“He was shadow batting for two hours a day and watching the games on TV. He was visualising how he would approach his batting the middle.
“His upbringing also played a role. His grandfather, who was in the defence services, made Yash a disciplinarian and made him mentally a tough individual,” said Nagar.
Whether it was the 82 against South Africa in the tournament or the century against Australians after the team’s poor start, Dhull impressed with his ability pace the innings.
At the start of the innings, he would rotate strike when others around him would struggle, before using his all-round scoring skills late in the innings.
Nagar remembers Dhull as a special 10-year-old kid from their first meeting and said he is the fastest learner he has seen in his coaching career. What the world saw him doing in the Caribbean, Nagar had seen it long ago.
“When he was 14, I made him captain of a DDCA club. A few First class players under his captaincy, the likes of Anuj Rawat and Ankit Saini .The high quality of Delhi cricket has also toughened him up.
“He is a 360 degree player as you have seen. He is also someone who likes to play in the V, his wrists are very strong that is why you see him rotating the strike even in pressure situations. The only shot he doesn’t play is sweep, similar to Virat Kohli,” said Nagar.
Considering that Kohli began playing the game quite close from where Dhull lives, it is not a surprise the current U-19 skipper is inspired by one of world cricket’s biggest star.
“He always used to say ‘mujhe virat bhaiya jaisa banna hain’. He was inspired by Virat’s aggression and his supreme skills and fitness levels. I would call him a mixture of Kohli and Dhoni as he is very calm off the field,” said Nagar.
While Dhull spent most his time with Nagar in school, the Airliner Academy in Bharti College in Janakpuri also helped him become the cricketer that he has become. Pradip Kochar and Mayank Nigam are coaches of that academy.
Nigam fondly remembered Dhull’s early days.
“We coach hundreds of kids at the same time but you can tell when someone is out of the ordinary. This guy would be never late for training be it peak winter or summer.
“If I called him for practice at 3 pm in the extreme heat of Delhi, he would turn up at 1 pm. Such was his focus on the game and that has remained in tact.”
Success at the U-19 World Cup must be cherished and celebrated but it doesn’t guarantee anything for the future.
Kochar belives his maiden Ranji Trohy season will give a clearer picture on where Dhull’s career is headed.
“He is ready for the higher level but since he did not play red ball cricket at the U19 level as he was selected for the white-ball format, Ranji Trophy will be a big test for him. If he passes that and get an IPL contract, I see him playing for India after that,” opined Kochar.