Shubman Gill finds a way...for now
When the limelight was on Jasprit Bumrah, Shubman Gill was silently practising the throwdowns after the close of the second day. Not that Gill compromises with his practice drills, but he knew the next innings could be his final in the format, at least for some time. Also, the pressure was more than ever for someone batting at his preferred position by replacing a veteran like Cheteshwar Pujara.
Before the second innings of the second Test, Gill had 223 runs in 11 innings at No.3 in Tests. He had no 50+ score, with the best score of 36. No matter how much the team management trusts you, these numbers were too mediocre to ignore.
And it was not just about numbers, as the captain Rohit Sharma would say himself. Anyone who had seen Gill bat before this century would question his abilities. Besides multiple loopholes in his batting, Gill’s confidence was also at an all-time low.
Generally, a batter would know whether he has nicked it, but Gill was so nervous that he didn’t feel a relatively healthy edge. Maybe he was too involved in negative thoughts, which are bound to revolve in your mind in such circumstances. After a lengthy chat with Shreyas Iyer, Gill hesitantly reviewed in the hope of a miracle when Tom Hartley beat him with a straighter one after the umpire raised his dreaded finger.
After watching the replay, his satisfying smile summed up how badly Gill needed to score. The start wasn’t easy, for he was tentative and unsure of his movements. That James Anderson, who had dismissed him five times at 9.60 runs apiece, was operating in full flow after removing both openers made life impossible for Gill.
James Anderson’s wobble seam deliveries are among the stiffest in red-ball cricket. One such delivery nipped in and hit just above Gill’s knee roll. Fortunately, the ball was still hard and bounced enough to show the umpire’s call, which was not out. Just when Gill started looking at home, Tom Hartley drew an outside edge, but Gill was again lucky as Joe Root stood wide, and the ball flew to his left and right of the wicketkeeper.
Gill survived thrice in 36 balls. While he has several flaws, playing with hard hands on every ball is the most significant, and it has been a perennial cause of his dismissal.
Even during defending, Gill goes hard on the ball, trying to impose himself on the shots. His dismissals off Hartley in the first Test and James Anderson in this game’s first innings were due to playing hard. His technique against spin is based prominently on hitting shots as early as possible.
While Gill remains still until the ball is delivered, he pounces on it, not letting it spin just after a bowler releases it. So when a ball is away from him, Gill naturally tries to play it with tight hands away from the body. Hartley knew it and deliberately delivered it from wide of his crease, but Root was not finer in the slip.
Gill has had enough by this time. He found that it was impossible to alter the technique in the middle of an innings and decided to play on the merit of the ball. He would rotate the strike consistently and started playing a touch late.
Those two cut shots off Rehan Ahmed depicted Gill’s change in method. The first one was short, but Gill quickly picked it and went off the back foot. He waited and waited before cutting it behind square leg for a boundary.
The following boundary also came via a cut, but the delivery wasn’t as bad as the previous one. Gill first pressed forward and quickly shifted back to dispatch it for another boundary. He was in full flow now, playing all his shots, including sweep and cover-drive, and English spinners also assisted him by providing loose deliveries from time to time.
That’s the thing while facing this English spin attack; you will get looseners amidst those tight ones. That boundary off a down-leg delivery after the ball went between the wicketkeeper and slip displayed the sheer inconsistency of this spin attack. So, if batters survive those good balls, there will be plenty of opportunities not to stick and keep the scoreboard moving.
When Rehan Ahmad tried bowling outside leg into the rough, Gill initially used his pad it away. However, Gill soon identified it won’t fetch him runs. When Rehan continued it, Gill stepped down and bludgeoned it straight down the ground for a massive maximum.
The spinner landed the next ball around a similar length, but the line was slightly more outside the leg stump. Gill swept it hard behind square for a boundary. He knew Rehan would overcorrect and waited for an overpitched ball to whip it away through midwicket for another four.
6⃣,4⃣,4⃣— BCCI (@BCCI) February 4, 2024
Shubman Gill accelerates against Rehan Ahmed and moves into the 80s 💥💥
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By this stage, Gill was picking lengths early and never indecisive with his foot movement and shot selection. The placement was excellent, for all his boundary shots were in the no-man region. He was even defending while getting to the pitch of the ball, as visible by the way he played Shoaib Bashir later.
It was the best he handled spin since moving to the No.3 spot. His celebration after tucking one to run a quick single to complete his third Test century embodied the significance of this knock. It wasn’t an aggressive celebration, as Gill calmly removed his helmet and looked towards heaven with relief.
A determined and composed knock acknowledged by the Vizag crowd 👏👏— BCCI (@BCCI) February 4, 2024
Well played Shubman Gill 🙌
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It felt like the universe wanted the most talented young batter to score, even if it came at the expense of Gill repeating the same mistakes. He rode his luck initially, but a batter needs the rub of the green to go their way during testing times. Only a few manage to adjust themselves as quickly as Gill did yesterday under immense pressure.
He is still far from ideal against both pace and spin. Fortunately, the track didn’t have as many demons to trouble Gill consistently. The bounce was adequate, even though it did get low when the ball became softer and wasn’t turning square.
He would need to work on incoming deliveries against pace and defending with soft hands against spin while not pushing hard towards the ball and leaning into his shots. Gill’s method looks ideal for white-ball cricket, but he would need to make slight adjustments when the ball’s colour turns red. No player has ever become great without being flexible, and Shubman Gill will have to adapt to different conditions to become an all-format batter.