From an MBA degree to a Ranji Trophy title
Shubham comes from a family where education has always been a priority. His father Shyam Sundar is a retired principal, mother Sarvesh still teaches and his brother is an IIT graduate. But they never asked Shubham to give up on his cricket dreams to pursue academics. If anything, Shubham himself was drawn to studies - like his state team-mate Venkatesh Iyer, he happens to have an MBA degree in human resources - but an interest in taking up cricket as a career meant he didn't sit for placements in college.
He has no regrets but it hasn't always been smooth sailing for Shubham in cricket. He didn't get as many chances as he might have liked in his early years. In this year's Vijay Hazare Trophy, he scored 418 runs at an average of 69.6, with one century and four half-centuries. Having finished fourth on the run-scorers' list, he hoped he would land an IPL contract. But he never got one.
"It is disappointing [to miss out] but I have never let that linger on," Shubham says. "If not this year, then surely the next. I draw inspiration from the fact that my mates Venkatesh, Avesh [Khan] and Rajat [Patidar] have been in the IPL and done well. They have all spent time in the dressing rooms and they share some of that knowledge with the others. After the Vijay Hazare [Trophy], I did get some calls from Punjab Kings, Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians. Kings and Super Kings even talked about taking me into their teams, but that didn't work out."
Shubham owes his confidence to Pandit who gave him a pep talk before the Vijay Hazare Trophy. It was also Pandit who had suggested he moved up the order in Ranji Trophy - a move that massively helped Shubham as well as his team.
"When he first came on board, Chandu sir [Pandit] took personal interviews to understand us all better and figure out how best to employ the players," Shubham says. "Getting me to bat at three and Yash to open were his plans. As was drafting in Akshat [Raghuvanshi], since normally Under-19 players don't get that kind of responsibility so early. He also reasoned that Rajat Patidar's batting was ideally suited for No. 4. I was used to batting at six or seven, but he put me in at three. None of the players questioned any of his decisions. We just focused on the process and not on any outcomes.
"I remember during the one-dayers, he once told me that if I really put my head down and batted, it was impossible for any bowler to dismiss me. I drew a lot of confidence from that statement, since he must have made it after observing my game."
Shubham struck 608 runs at an average of 76 this Ranji season, with four centuries and a half-century. Not surprisingly, he rates the hundred in the final as his favourite.
"The Gujarat game was critical too, but I would rate this hundred as the best because it came under the pressure of a final. It was fun batting with Yash because we have known each other for a long time and spent a lot of time playing together. We are good friends and when we bat, we discuss what the bowlers are doing and where we can score our runs. When we dismissed Mumbai for 374, Chandu sir simply said that the way we had been batting this season, it was likely we would get to 480 as a minimum. All he asked of us was to treat each ball on its merit."
When MP needed seven on the final day to win the match, Shubham perished while attempting a slog-sweep. He had to face Pandit's ire when he returned to the dressing room.
"I normally don't play that kind of stroke, but then I thought of doing it since we only needed seven. I was just removing my pads in the dressing room and didn't realise Chandu sir was in the dugout. He called out my name and asked me to come sit next to him. His point simply was that if I had to hit a big shot, I should stuck to my game and played it straight. I could have still picked up six, he felt."
The bookworm from Bhopal
Unlike Shubham, Dubey wasn't too keen on getting a college degree. But Dubey did spend most of his career batting in the middle order, just like Shubham, and was sent up the order by Pandit to face the new ball during the league stages this season. Suddenly he was required to bide his time and blunt the opposition's new-ball attack, and handle seam and swing for longer than what he may have been used to.
"Ahead of the Kerala game, he asked me if I was prepared to open," Dubey says. "I told him I was ready. This was about three or four days ahead of the actual game. I took those few days to have a few chats about opening with the coach and other players. Once that was done, I didn't stop to think too much about it."
He got comfortable in his new role quickly and came out successful - he scored 289 in the first innings against Kerala, helping post a mammoth total of 585 for 9. Dubey sought some tips from his opening partner Himanshu Mantri, and constant feedback from coach Pandit also helped him break patterns.
"Himanshu's philosophy was simple - he said that there were eight or nine batters to follow us," Dubey says. "So we just had to approach our job with positivity. He also suggested that my patient batting style was perfectly suited to opening. I just had to focus on a few things like playing close to my body. I needed my hands to be close to me so I could retain control when I was hitting the ball. I just focused on these basics."
"He [Pandit] told me, 'you have gotten out for a low score against Punjab, but you have already done what was expected of you as opener. You have batted for 90 balls and made the ball older for the batters to follow. You worked hard for the team but didn't get the reward for it, but that's alright. I am less concerned about the runs you make and more about the number of balls you have faced'
"I got out to average decisions in both innings of the semi-final, but Chandu sir told me that if I had gotten out to a bad shot in the previous match, here I had fallen to two bad decisions. He asked me to repent the poor shot in the Punjab game and promise never to do that again. I promised him I would bat with greater discipline in the final, and he said he was confident I would score heavily in that match. All he said was to not play a false shot, or even god wouldn't forgive me this time."
Keeping all this advice in mind, he set out to make a big score during the final, against Mumbai, where he stitched up a 222-run second-wicket stand with his 'idol' Shubham: "He [Shubham] has been an idol of mine from my U-19 days, because of his technical proficiency. We had numerous chats right through this season. We were also room partners for a long time. Even against Mumbai, we constantly chatted about what the wicket was doing and how much seam their bowlers were able to extract."
Dubey grew up around chat about MP's inadequacy to be contenders for the Ranji title. "Everybody would say MP aren't capable of doing well in the Ranji Trophy. To have done that under Chandu sir was extra special. We know we lost under his captaincy in 1999, but it feels good that we have been able to realise the dream that he once had."
Did his idol Shubham also influence him to get back to his studies? For now, he just sticks to reading books at leisure, Dubey says. "You get to learn a lot when you read extensively," he says. "I have seen others spend a lot of time on YouTube and on OTT platforms, but in the meantime I have become more used to reading. You will often find me with a book and a cup of coffee on me. I always get to breakfast ahead of time and then unwind with a book and some coffee."