What followed was 33 overs of a precisely-paced ODI innings which yielded a run-a-ball 110 for Dhull. The knock set the foundation for a mam-moth victory and a place in Saturday’s final against England.
Dhull’s cricket journey started with a curve ball thrown at him at the age of 11. He went to Bal Bhawan school, where he has been honed for the last eight years, for admission since the academy there could give him enough opportunities. He was turned away by the principal.
“Yash pleaded for an opportunity to prove his potential. Then we decided to give him one match and told him that was his only opportunity. He was playing against 14-year-old boys and scored an unbeaten 125,” his childhood coach Rajesh Nagar fondly remembers.
According to Nagar, his most endearing quality came through after that innings. “The principal gave him Rs 500 as a reward and asked him what he wanted to do with that money. Yash said he will give his teammates a treat since success in cricket depends on the teammates,” Nagar told TOI.
Dhull’s family was completely in-vested in his cricket career. Yet they never interfered in the way he was coached. “His grandfather is an ex-Army man and that discipline is in him. He speaks less and knows what needs to be done,” the coach claims.
As he cruised through the U-16 level, the next challenge came when the first Covid lockdown happened in 2020. Gyanendra Pandey, the junior national selector, had told him he would be in India’s U-19 scheme of things that year. But everything came to a standstill.
“We set up nets on our terrace and started working on certain shots using tennis balls. His coaches would give him routines and he would do his fitness on the terrace. He mastered the inside-out shot through and over covers during that period,” Yash’s father Vijay said.
“He didn’t get many matches to play in 2020 and it took some time to gain momentum. He could have pushed his case for Delhi’s senior team. But he acknowledged the situation and kept looking forward,” Vijay added.
Dhull, unlike his contemporaries, has not overtly relied on power-hit-ting. He has worked on touch play. Late cuts, deft nudges, clever chip shots were his weapons to drag the opposition to a corner. “From a very young age, he believed in hitting gaps and keeping the singles flowing. He knows he can accelerate when he takes the innings deep. He has worked hard on his power-hitting. He had single-handedly won a club match against a team full of seasoned Delhi cricketers last year playing that way. Pradeep Sangwan had told me to take good care of him,” Nagar said.
The same approach helped him through his innings in the semifinal on Wednesday. “The plan from me and Rasheed was to bat till the end, and it worked. The idea was to bat steadily, not to try too many shots, and to bat past the 40th over,” Dhull said at the post-match presentation.
The toughest challenge came when he tested positive for Covid-19 on the morning of the second match of the tournament. “He was down for a day. The matches against Ireland and Uganda were good opportunities to get runs. But the next day he turned a corner and started talking about how he could be ready to deliver in the knockouts,” Nagar said. Dhull turned things around, and how!