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Dark days behind him, Shivam Dube ready to 'be the player the Indian team needs'

Shivam Dube goes big BCCI

Shivam Dube was at the indoor nets at National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru when an official with the Karnataka team stopped him with a friendly greeting. It ended with the official saying, "You owe the BCCI lots of money still!" A bout of laughter later, Dube continued on his way.

The manager's reference was to Dube's incredible innings of 118 against Karnataka in the Vijay Hazare Trophy 2019-20 just over a week ago. Dube had hit a century off 58 balls, going from fifty to hundred in a mere 17 deliveries, an innings he describes as one he felt "fabulous" in. He hit ten sixes during his knock, and the ball had to be replaced a fair few times - hence the joke about owing money to the BCCI.

With his maiden call-up to the Indian squad, for the upcoming T20Is against Bangladesh, Dube might have a comeback line along the lines of "take it from my match fees".

The first person Dube will speak to after receiving the call-up is his father Rajesh. "He's my whole and soul, everything. He's always behind me, and he's my backbone also," Dube told ESPNcricinfo during the Hazare Trophy. "He has done everything for me. So the first thing I'll do is call my dad and tell him, 'I've got selected for India'.

"My dream has been to play for India, but even ahead of that, it's that my dad should be happy seeing me play for India."

ALSO READ: The Shivam Dube journey - from school cricket to the Indian team

Dube, who bats left-handed and is a right-arm medium pacer, has been chosen for his ability to hit big and bowl seam-up at a brisk pace, a readymade replacement for the injured Hardik Pandya.

Dube's preferred area of big-hitting is "straight back over the bowler's head", and though his bowling is still in the medium-fast category, he is keen to get his pace higher. It's his big-hitting, though, that has had people sit up and take notice, and it's an aspect he works assiduously on.

"I think I have good power and I use that for hitting big," he said. "I practice a lot for big-hitting too. I have a separate session for it. I always go for two-three sessions and the last session is power hitting. I work a lot on it because that's my strength and I always back my strength. I have the power, so I use it."

True to his words, Dube spent a whole lot of time in that net session batting normally first, and then had a separate slot where the focus was on blasting the leather off the ball. It's something he has been doing in the middle a lot lately. He smacked 155 at a strike rate of 144.85 in four List A matches against South Africa A - and was out just once. In the Hazare Trophy, where Mumbai were done in by the weather, he scored 177 runs at a strike rate of 146.28 from five innings - and was out just twice.

Dube has shaken off a disappointing IPL 2019 - where he hardly got opportunities with Royal Challengers Bangalore after being bought for INR 5 crore - to roar back into contention with the impact he has had.

"I don't think anything went wrong as such," Dube said about his IPL stint. "But every player, even good players, have times where they are not doing as well, and that was the time for me. I thought I learned a lot from that phase, and I'm showing my skills and aptitude now.

"I think I'm a capable player, which is why I've gone for that money. Virat [Kohli] bhaiyya helped me a lot. He told me, 'Don't worry, it's up and down always. Even I had a bad IPL once, but I worked hard and came back stronger, and I know you will come back stronger.'"

Dube grew up in a household where his father had a private net built for him at a nearby ground, but he's had his share of struggles too. Fitness was an issue, but it's improved significantly, and he has continued to work at it. He also had a period from the age of 14 to 19, where he didn't play cricket at all.

Dube doesn't like to revisit that phase, saying simply, "It was a personal issue with my family", but he's happy to speak about his battles with fitness.

"As an allrounder, you need to have the best fitness. I had struggled with that but I've gone to a good level now and I think I'm doing really well," he said. "I had to do everything - build strength, lose weight, get endurance… I feel stronger and lighter now.

"I talked with Virat bhaiyya about fitness and he told me there's no issue with my fitness. He also said he looked at me as a batsman who could finish the game and told me that I should finish the game every time, that I should have that capacity in my game."

When he had given up the game, Dube admits he "never thought" that the day would come when he could be playing for India. Now 26, he has left the dark days behind and can see glory beckoning. "I want to be the player that the Indian team needs, and to perform over there. I want to be the player that the team wants to have because he's a game-changer."