When you walk into Ravneet Gill’s office on the 17th floor at Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai, it could come across as a perfectly regular office to the untrained eye. When the purpose is talking about bat, ball and field - your perspective might change. There is not a single corner in the office that is left untouched by cricket. A book on cricket in one corner, old trophies from his time with the Mumbai branch team at Deutsche Bank, jerseys signed by the Indian cricket team framed above his desk... the signs are really there for you to see, if you’re observing.
Gill loves cricket. Any conversation circling around cricket is handled with the same erudition as he approaches a conversation surrounding business. Says the Deutsche Bank CEO, “I don’t see cricket as an escape. It is an element that makes up for a perfect day. I am not someone who needs to consciously switch off. I am an intense person and cricket is a passion, not just a hobby for me. I like the whole thing about cricket being a team sport. There are batsmen, spinners and fast bowlers and one has to bring them together. In cricket, the roles are clearly demarcated. That’s what gives me a kick, which is why I don’t think I could have played tennis or squash.”
At 10, Gill was presented with a cricket bat. Unlike other Indian kids, he says he did not hold a cricket bat before that. The enthusiasm for the sport didn’t develop magically, as he held the bat; it developed gradually. “The turning point was while travelling to Delhi from Bhopal to watch India play England in ’72-’73 at the Feroz Shah Kotla ground. During the match, the crowd clapped after an over that Bishan Singh Bedi had bowled. I was confused because no wickets were taken or sixes were hit. When I asked my father why the audience clapped, he said it was because Bedi had bowled a maiden over. I was curious and that was probably the moment for me.”
After that, his life, he says was a blur of playing the game and watching it whenever he got a chance to. While he wasn’t an athlete, it didn’t deter him from playing cricket. He says, “I have always been a competitive cricketer. At 15, when I started playing seriously, I was of stronger build, and could easily hurl the ball quicker. More than talent, it was passion for the sport that pulled me through.”
He sailed through school and college being an opening bowler and middle-order batsman for his teams. Once while working at the Deutsche Bank office in south Bombay (now well known as DB House), he joined the branch team as well. Reminiscing those good ol‘ days he spent in Bombay, especially between 1986-1991, he says, “We were playing a game at the Parsi Gymkhana, where I saw a young boy in the adjoining nets whose hands were as thin as the bat handle hitting the ball long distances. When I asked a friend who the boy was, he said, ‘That’s Sachin Tendulkar.’” His brush with Tendulkar wasn’t an isolated incident. He has managed to keep himself engaged with players from the Indian cricket team through the years. Being friends with the likes of Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and even Shikhar Dhawan from the relatively younger players, Gill has ensured that he is never too far away from the cricket pitch. He has managed to collect memorabilia such as the Indian team jersey signed by all the players, the batting gloves of Darren Lehmann, signed jerseys from Brett Lee, Shane Warne, Shoaib Akhtar and the likes.
While he narrates all his stories and recounts them with a passion that reflects in his eyes, Gill usually has a veneer of calm on the outside. “One would say that I undergo a complete transformation when I am on the pitch. At some point, my coach warned me against sledging by threatening that we’d be kicked out of the league. But, on field, I have never been shy of giving it back to someone if I heard something.”
His temperament, though, was not to be blamed in his interactions with actor, Tom Alter. Gill used to play cricket with Bollywood actors and Alter happened to be one of the players whom he ended up playing thrice in his life. He says, “The first time I happened to get him out was when his leg was in the air and the ball bounced off his boot and hit the stumps. The second time, I ended up hitting his chin so hard that he had to get 17 stitches. When he returned to playing cricket, I had assumed keeper duty and stumped him. In our third match, I ended up fracturing his hand with a short ball. Later that evening Alter called me and said, ‘Ravneet, yeh hamara picchhle janam ka kya rishta hai ?’ Alter is a fine sportsman and a thorough gentleman, I regret those injuries dearly.”
When asked if he ever wanted to play professionally for the country, he replies, “I would have given my right arm to play for India, but given the extent of my ability, I realise now that I would have probably lost my right arm for nothing.” Over the years that he spent playing for the company, he won trophies such as the Times Shield, Bank Shield and the Deutsche Bank Asia tournament. While he doesn’t have the time to play his usual 10-15 games per year, he still manages to play a couple of games, leading the pack as he does in the corporate world as well. No matter how busy he gets, Gill is up-to-date about cricket. Besides reading articles and collecting memorabilia, his two sons are always keeping him young by playing the game often. He says, “I play friendly games with the neighbourhood kids who are one-third my age. The challenge there, though, is to prove myself to be better than them.”