Shubman Gill

The muted celebration when Shubman Gill got to his third Test century fitted his knock. There were no angry gestures or loud cries or fist pumping. Just a sigh of relief followed by a smile. The hundred, too, was calm and composed, after the early wobble.

For a batsman living on borrowed time when the squad for the England Test series was announced, the last three innings had pushed him to the verge of the exit door. With the squad for the three remaining matches yet to be named, Gill needed breathing space. On Sunday, as the locals turned up in numbers at Visakhapatnam, and luck shone brightly on him, Gill found the cushion he had desperately sought.

From the time Gill walked in after James Anderson bowled Rohit Sharma with a peach, he looked tentative. When he and Shreyas Iyer were in the middle, it looked like a straight shootout between the two to lock a spot for the Rajkot Test. By the end of Day 3, he had his place locked at Rajkot, as his 104 took India to 255 in the second innings and set England a target of 399. At stumps, England were 67/1, needing another 332 runs to go 2-0 up.

This was no means a flawless century from Gill. If anything, right through the stay, especially in the first half of his knock, he learned the areas he needs to work on. Even before he got to 25, he survived thrice, and in the process, exposing his problematic areas. Time and again, he tends to thrust his pad ahead of the bat. The incoming deliveries from the seamers continue to cause him trouble. When defending or driving, the long strides go missing, forcing him to lunge forward or push at the ball.

For a batsman short on confidence and runs, he wasn’t running short of luck. First up, the snicko came to his rescue. Adjudged LBW to Tom Hartley to the one that went straight on, the snicko spotted a thin edge off his bat. It was a review that Gill had taken more out of desperation than conviction. As the big screen flashed ‘not out’ Gill would smile in disbelief. In the next over, James Anderson went for a review after Gill ended up missing one that seamed back in. This time, he was saved by the on-field umpire’s call on the height as the ball tracker showed it just about clipping the top of middle and leg stumps. Seven overs later, Hartley would draw him forward with one that gripped and turned, but the resultant edge would head to the boundary in the gap between Ben Foakes and Joe Root at first slip.

Cause of concern

For a batsman who had put his hand-up and wanted to bat at No 3 during the tour of West Indies, such glitches were beginning to be a cause of concern with every passing outing. Since scoring a century last year in the drawn Test against Australia at Ahmedabad, Gill’s string of scores prior to this innings read: 13, 18, 6, 10, 29*, 2, 26, 36, 10, 23, 0, 34 with the first two coming as an opener.

Festive offer

Of course, since his debut series in Australia during the 2020/21 season, Gill hasn’t played on batting-friendly tracks. But in the last two at Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam, where India have gone back to traditional slow turners, Gill has looked as tentative at the start as he was on challenging decks. For No 3, India have largely relied on batsmen who can blunt the new ball by being defensive and set the base for their middle-order. With Gill, a more aggressive player by nature, they have opted for a change of direction, in tune with the times. But for it to work, they need Gill to fix these holes, for there is little place to keep attacking for a prolonged period without having a strong defence.

That there are the likes of Rajat Patidar and Sarfaraz Khan waiting in the wings only added to the noise around Gill. It is not as if the 24-year-old was not aware of it. After the first Test, the noise was not just from outside. He could even hear it within the walls of the dressing room as well, with serious deliberation taking place whether to send Gill back to the domestic fold, especially with the Ranji Trophy’s league phase on. The century thus gives Gill space to work on his game, without any noise in the background.

He would later say: “I think it’s very important to stay true to who you are and how you have gotten there. Sometimes if you get over defensive or over aggressive or try to play or try to be someone that you are not, then you are prolonging those (bad) innings. Then you’re sometimes not able to get out of that shell. Going into this test match I said ‘I’m going to play how I’ve played my cricket throughout’ and that was that.”

Had Gill returned with another low score, he stood a strong chance of turning up for Punjab in their league match against Gujarat next week. If it came down to that, the road to comeback wouldn’t be as easy, particularly with all the competition going around.

Once Gill got beyond the tentative period, he looked every bit the batsman who had a stellar 2023 in white-ball cricket. The short-arm jabs over mid-wicket, the sweep in front of square, the lofted sweep over fine-leg, the cover-drive, were all back and as did the long forward strides. As he grew in confidence, Gill would not even hesitate coming down the track to spinners and loft them.

Having found the confidence, the challenge for Gill in the remaining three Tests is to make the most out of it. He will get batting friendly conditions as well. Over to Gill to make full use of it. If not he would be in dire need of domestic help.

By 111 Tech

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