Shubman Gill stamps down his place in the ODI setup in World Cup year
The virtuoso of Shubman Gill has been irrefutable ever since he busted at the competitive level. The chatter about his superior expertise has been abundant, and rightly so. But, with talent comes anomalous expectations and comparisons. Ask the current Indian captain Rohit Sharma. Fortunately, Gill has managed to meet the expectations more often than not.
Be it the acclaimed Gabba heroics on his maiden Australia tour in Tests or his classy ODI innings in Zimbabwe and the West Indies, Gill has already played some staggering innings in his young career.
His 208 in the recent series against New Zealand was another top-quality knock against the highest-ranked team in the ICC ODI rankings. If there will be a list of the innings thronged with panache, Gill's maiden double ton will be up in the top tray. A performance squealing his class and lashed with stellar shots throughout.
The pitch had reasonable bounce, and Shubman Gill - one of the best Indian players on bouncy tracks - made merry of it. His first boundary itself substantiated his superior skillsets to get on top of the bounce. The batters generally play cut shots near the point region, but Gill steered it past the cover-point fielder to get off the mark.
That's his trademark shot. Gill had played them the whole Sri Lanka series. His high backlift enables him to play the ball straighter than squarer, explained Mohammad Kaif. That tall backlift is also why his pull shots seem more like a short-arm jab at times.
Shubman was either hitting boundaries or playing dot balls in the powerplay. The right-hander played 80% dot balls in the first ten overs. But Rohit Sharma's attacking intent enabled him to get his eye in.
After playing second fiddle to Rohit Sharma in the powerplay, the Firozpur-born took the initiative and maintained the momentum of the innings despite regular wickets in the middle overs. Even though he did not hit many sixes, Gill has had a strike rate of 136.14 in these 30 overs. The dot ball% also reduced to 27.71 only.
Mitchell Santner was at his usual best bowling tight lines and had snared Virat Kohli's wicket. One could argue that Kohli misjudged the length, but Santner’s relentless accuracy stifles even the best of the batters. That’s not applied to Shubman Gill, though. He was always under control, as reflected by the two boundaries an over before Kohli's wicket.
In a top-order struggling against spin for some time, Gill's superior skillsets are no less than a solace. He picks the lengths quickly and transfers the weight impeccably against the tweakers. Coalesce them with his inimitable dexterity to place the ball at any part of the ground at will, and you have one of the best, if not the best, batters to operate in the middle overs.
Even while hitting the boundaries, Gill ensured finding the no-man region almost every time. That's something seen in a player like Virat Kohli very often in this format. No wonder Gill coerced a bowler like Santner to shift away from his confined length at times.
He provided a chance while arriving down the track off Michael Bracewell, but Latham first dropped the catch and then also missed an easy stumping. The way Gill slog-swept a fuller-length delivery to reach fifty in the same over showed nothing but his elite mindset.
Harsha Bhogle asked Gill about the big shots coming just after a wicket in the post-match presentation.
"Yeah, I mean, sometimes when the bowler is on top, you have to get them under pressure. Because if they are not feeling any kind of pressure, it's easier for them to create more dot balls. So that was my plan, you know, when the bowler is trying to get on top of me, just try to hit the gap, hit it hard, show some intent to the bowler," Gill replied.
His boundary in the 42nd over off Mitchell Santner was nothing less than a craft. That was not very short in length, but Gill rocked back and played an exquisite short-arm jab through the deep mid-wicket region for four. The placement was so precise that none of the two deep fielders could prevent the boundary.
However, there was a slight ambivalence about Gill's pace-hitting ability in the slog overs. His calibre to make the big hundreds and acceleration against the pacers at this level was unknown before this knock. The 23-year-old sidelined them as swiftly as he cleared the long-off to reach the double ton in just 145 balls.
Hitting sixes at Lockie Ferguson's pace is a herculean task, even if the lengths are fuller. Not for Shubman Gill, though. He hit three consecutive maximums effortlessly in the penultimate over of the innings off Ferguson. Gill raced away from 150 to 200 in the blink of an eye off just 23 balls.
Anything on full length or Back of the Length/Short by pacers, Shubman Gill was quick to pounce on the opportunity.#ShubmanGill | #TeamIndia | #INDvNZ pic.twitter.com/J3icc1KeR2— Cricket.com (@weRcricket) January 18, 2023
There was something notable about his method of innings construction. It might not look, but Gill's scoring rate never reduced drastically. It's just that the onslaught at the end took away the limelight.
In the innings breakdown above, Shubman Gill's strike rate is below 100 only in the first 25-ball phase. Five of the six times, his scoring rate is better than the previous set. The boundary-hitting frequency was another highlight of the innings.
Shubman Gill accommodated 208 runs off 149 balls at an impressive 84% control. To put that into perspective, the second-highest scorer Michael Bracewell batted with 68% control [Data Credit: ESPNcricinfo]. While New Zealand did have a few key bowlers missing, their bowling attack was still formidable.
Gill became the fastest Indian batter, joint second-fastest in the world (19 innings), to 1000 ODI runs. He also grabbed the record of being the youngest to hit a double ton in the ODIs, held by Ishan Kishan earlier. His 208 were also the second-most runs in an ODI rubber when no other batter scored a fifty.
Indians scoring their first 3 ODI centuries with 110+ SR— The Cricket Panda (@TheCricketPanda) January 20, 2023
Despite having all the talent in the world, the road hasn’t been smooth for Shubman Gill in ODIs. Replacing Shikhar Dhawan, who had been prolific for several years, meant Gill was under constant scrutiny. He had to repay the faith shown in him by the team management.
To an extent, Gill managed to do that as well. Whenever both Gill and Dhawan batted, the difference in quality was lucid. The ageing reflexes of the southpaw compelled the team to prefer Gill to him.
But, when Ishan Kishan amassed the double ton against Bangladesh at Chattogram just over a month ago, the pressure mounted again on Gill. Yes, Shubman Gill has been consistent in whatever chances he got, but leaving out a double-centurion would have been a harsh or, in a way, iniquitous decision. The outside noise to play Ishan Kishan over Shubman Gill was also loud enough.
No offence meant, but Ishan Kishan does have a fair share of limitations. While he did score a magnificent double century and can take any bowling attack apart on his day, Kishan’s technique is far from perfect on a surface that has anything for the bowlers. Meanwhile, Gill’s technique is robust and suitable for any condition.
The think-tank rightly showed faith in Gill again, and he lived on their expectations again. Fittingly, Shubman Gill also accumulated a double century to shut down the debates to prefer Kishan to him in the XI. He has two consecutive centuries and a 70 in the last five ODI innings. His overall numbers in this format are also stunning: 1102 runs at a marvellous 68.88 average and an astounding strike rate of 109.
"This is what dreams are made of," he exclaimed after the knock, not quite knowing he would go on to make another hundred in the series and equal Babar Azam's tally of most runs in a bilateral series of three ODIs. If that roar after becoming the eighth double centurion in men's ODIs is anything to go by, expect Gill to play more such dream knocks in coming times.