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Shubman Gill enters vital phase of his Test journey

A billion eyeballs are trained on Shubman Gill
A billion eyeballs are trained on Shubman Gill
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Modified 11 Feb 2021
Feature

19th January, 2021, Brisbane, Shubman Gill, alongside Rohit Sharma, has the unenviable task of salvaging an improbable situation against Australia - that too at the latter’s fortress. To put things into context, the Indians were required to bat out the entire day to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Or, if they were brave enough, hunt down a 328-run mountain on a track that had shown considerable signs of wear and tear.

In ordinary circumstances, any side would’ve bitten the hand off at the option of a draw. Yet, the Indian cricket team, which has rechristened itself as the epitome of fearlessness, pursued the target, ultimately grinding the Aussies into submission.

Unsurprisingly, Rishabh Pant, who starred with an unbeaten 89 hogged the limelight, not just because he had personified the bravado and outrageousness that has become synonymous with India, but also because he stood strong in the face of adversity.

India posted a historic triumph at the Gabba
India posted a historic triumph at the Gabba

Additionally, effusive praises were sung for Cheteshwar Pujara, who despite being visibly battered and bruised, carried on in gladiatorial fashion – again, qualities that the Indians had showcased throughout the tour.

Among all that though, another remarkable performance flew under the radar, albeit slightly. Yet, there is significant evidence to argue that that display, perhaps formed the cornerstone of one of the most historic Indian triumphs overseas.

When the visitors were asked to withstand the Australian barrage of fast bowling, the openers were expected to play a massive role, for they would set the tone for the essay. However, Rohit Sharma’s early departure meant that Shubman Gill, despite only being in his 3rd Test, was cast as an unlikely protagonist. That he did so without even flinching is a testament to his sheer quality.

By the time Shubman Gill was dismissed, he had crafted his way to 91 off 146 balls, with each of those runs coming when Cheteshwar Pujara was being pounded all over his body. In turn, that highlighted Shubman Gill’s ability to shut out what went around him, while also being acutely aware of it – a trait that truly great sportspeople possess.

More importantly though, he portrayed the composure to not let the circumstances daunt him, instead using that as a springboard to make the world sit up and take notice.

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A game prior, Shubman Gill had compiled neat knocks, wherein he rarely looked out of sync, even as Australia’s first-choice pace trio of Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins kept pushing and probing.

At the MCG, which incidentally was his maiden red-ball international contest, Shubman Gill shepherded the Indians across the line. Although the visitors only required 70 runs in the fourth innings, the demons of Adelaide still had to be put to bed – something Shubman Gill exceptionally did.

Thus, over the course of the tour Down Under, the Kolkata Knight Riders batsman had laid bare his international credentials, indicating that he could also morph into the batting mainstay India have craved at the top of the order.

Shubman Gill (L) has captured the imagination of the cricketing fraternity
Shubman Gill (L) has captured the imagination of the cricketing fraternity

To that end, he also began the series against England relatively confidently, stroking his way to 29 in the first innings at Chennai. On the fifth day of the same game, he caressed his way to 50, before James Anderson screeched through his defences.

Also Read: James Anderson rekindles memories of Dale Steyn's Nagpur special

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Consequently, it wouldn’t be wrong to point out that Shubman Gill has only endured a handful of failures in the longest version, with almost all of his innings crossing the double figure mark. Yet, despite getting a start each time, the right-hander has not yet managed to script a substantial score (a century basically). And, perhaps, that might be the litmus test of his pedigree as an international cricketer.

To put things into perspective, Shubman Gill averages 65.20 in First Class cricket – a tally that includes 7 hundreds and 14 fifties. Though the average is pretty astounding, one might find the minutest of chinks, if one were to dig deeper.

Of the 21 times he has crossed fifty, Shubman Gill has reached three figures only 7 times, which essentially translates to a conversion rate of 33.33%, which despite not being shabby, doesn’t do justice to the precocious talent he boasts.

In contrast, batsmen that are currently considered the gold standard in Test cricket, namely Messrs. Kane Williamson, Steve Smith and Virat Kohli, have conversion rates of 42.86, 46.55 and 52.94, respectively. While it might be a touch naïve to compare Shubman Gill to the aforementioned trio, there have been fleeting glimpses that he might be worth the hype.

Additionally, on the 7 occasions that he has breached the 100-run barrier, he has gotten out to a sub-125 score only once – highlighting that once he gets past 100, he usually makes it count. Thus, bringing to the fore his propensity of scoring ‘daddy hundreds’.

Shubman Gill has failed to reach a ton in Test cricket thus far
Shubman Gill has failed to reach a ton in Test cricket thus far
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Shubman Gill is yet to score a ton in Test cricket

So far in Test cricket, he has huffed and puffed after getting past fifty – something that seems to be a slight extension of his First-Class tendencies. Subsequently, the challenge for Shubman Gill revolves around him making his starts count and ensuring that he doesn’t wither away those, especially on tracks that make life for the new batsmen tough.

Furthermore, Shubman Gill, especially after breezing through the opening exchanges, has a proclivity to suffer soft dismissals – a fact emphasized by him being dismissed ‘caught’ 26 times out of 46.

Though that has meant that he has been bowled or given out LBW on only 11 instances, which is splendid for a top-order batsman, it hints that he can be prone to the odd lapse in concentration – a characteristic that might not be too prudent in the unforgiving confines of international cricket.

Most tellingly though, Shubman Gill, for no fault of his, has had extraordinary responsibility placed on his shoulders. Not just because he has whetted the appetite courtesy his sumptuous stroke-play, but also due to the fact that a few illustrious names around him have simply not pulled their weight.

Also Read: Is Ajinkya Rahane slowly becoming a liability in home Tests?

Over the years, there have been countless cricketers who have excelled on the talent front, but haven’t prospered when it comes to temperament. In blunter terms, Rohit Sharma, at least in Test cricket, seems a prime example, for his record is a shadow of the potential destruction he can cause.

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On that yardstick, Shubman Gill might do well to not emulate his opening partner, instead, striving to be a lot more consistent. Additionally, if Shubman Gill can become a bankable yet equally belligerent batsman, India might regularly opt for five bowlers – something that certainly adds to the balance of the side.

Also Read: India's old habits highlight a worrying trend

Thus, at this juncture, it seems a tad unfair that such spotlight has been bestowed upon Shubman Gill, who despite his raw talent, is still only 4 Tests old. Yet, that is the predicament he finds himself in, although his intermittent shades of brilliance have shown that he has the wherewithal to emerge from the rubble unscathed.

As far as his personal career trajectory is concerned, even he might not have expected to become one of India’s most aesthetically pleasing and dependable batsman – all in a space of a series and a half. However, now that he has arrived at this crossroad, he needs to portray that he isn’t just another cricketer with the perceived X-Factor – one who frustrates more than he mesmerizes.

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Back in January 2021, when Shubman Gill was thrown to the proverbial wolves at the Gabba, he came back leading the back, doing so with some distinction. Now though, there is palpable optimism that he might be able to conjure similar magical acts each time he takes the field.

Again, that isn’t something Shubman Gill would’ve longed for, at least in the formative stages of his Test career, but is also something that he seems pristinely equipped for.

Perhaps, that is what might differentiate Shubman Gill from being a good cricketer or a great cricketer. So far, the latter seems a more likely outcome and it is up to Shubman Gill to decide whether the aforementioned is used as an impediment or an extra layer of motivation.

After all, a billion fans would be hoping that that knock against Australia at the Gabba becomes the norm, rather than just being an aberration, wouldn’t they?

Published 11 Feb 2021, 19:57 IST
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