Shubman Gill: India's batting future is now here
Two years ago, Yuvraj Singh was in a casual conversion with VVS Laxman on the sidelines of an event at a Mumbai hotel; the Hyderabad legend enquired about the progress of a young Punjab batsman called Shubman Gill.
“He is not just getting runs in domestic cricket, you can sense a fear among the bowlers up against him,” Yuvraj said.
There are good players and then there are players who have the rare ability to put the opponent under pressure by their mere presence at the crease.
What his Punjab teammates have experienced playing with him, the whole cricket world was witness to on Monday--Gill's ability to strangle the opposition bowling. And this was not a domestic bowling attack, but the fierce Aussie pace battery plus one great spinner, arguably the world's finest unit.
After making his debut in the second Test of the Border-Gavaskar series, the Punjab batsman has been simply unstoppable. His half-century at Syndey, and 45 and 35 not out on debut at Melbourne were built on sparkling shot-making and a compact, stylish technique. At Brisbane, he proved he has the steel to go with the flair as he made a telling impact on the final Test.
It was the highest examination for a young batsman. A world-class bowling attack, led by the No 1 ranked Test bowler, at a fast track on the fifth day of the Test. Gill gave them the same treatment he has dished out to bowlers at the first-class level at home.
What could be more demoralizing for a bowler but to execute a delivery at 145kpm plus and still see that the batsman has extra time to play his shot? That's what Gill has done throughout the series. At the Gabba, his series-defining 91 was full of such fluent, time-bending strokes.
When senior opening partner Rohit Sharma fell early in the day, with the total on 18, it could have been the beginning of Australia's promised domination. Gill had other ideas. With a gritty Pujara putting up a roadblock at the other end, the two structured a 114-run partnership that set the tempo for a historic chase. It's a partnership that rattled Australia: at one end, there was Gill's fiery counter-attack, at the other, Pujara's numbing stoicism.
It was not just the runs, but the rate at which Gill scored (strike rate of 62.33) that upset captain Tim Paine’s game plan. He took the pressure off Pujara; when their partnership touched 50, Pujara’s score was six off 68 balls and Gill’s 44. When it touched 100, Pujara had scored 19 to Gill’s 84. The two took the total from 18 for one to 132 for two, before Gill fell for a 91 studded with eight fours and two sixes.
He was part of the most gripping period of play in the half-hour before and post-lunch when Pat Cummins went hard at India’s second-wicket pair. Pujara bore the brunt with a series of blows to his body, as Cummins looked to make a breakthrough. While the burly pacer did rattle Pujara, his pace held no fear for Gill.
Australia tested how good the opening batsman's game was against the short ball. At one point, there were four players on the leg side for his pull and hook shots. Gill had all the answers. He is not a blind hooker or puller. Because of the extra pace and the accuracy of Cummins, Gill came inside the line and tapped the ball down with control. With Mitchell Starc, who has having an off day, Gill played freely. A highlight of the innings being his assault on the left-arm pacer for three successive boundaries to move from 74 to 88; the first an uppercut that landed in the stands, followed by another uppercut that bounced once to the boundary line and then a vicious pull to the midwicket boundary. Earlier, there was the trademark backfoot punch, where he stands tall and meets the ball with a horizontal blade, to bring up India’s 50.
With cracks appearing on the wicket, Australia were banking on Nathan Lyon. Gill made him look innocuous, as he has done throughout the series, killing his flighted deliveries with a confident full stretch, or, with equal ease, moving deep into his crease to get on top of the bounce to play with the turn.
On Monday, he marked their battle with the kind of drive which pulls at the connoisseurs’ heartstrings, dancing down and caressing the ball to the fence through wide mid-off, to move from 44 to 48.
A century was there for the taking, before the wily Lyon got back by having him edge to the slips.
An Australian tour is said to make or break a player. Those who can handle it are here to stay.
Presenting, Shubman Gill.
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