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Virat Kohli to Shubman Gill – India’s Cricket Baton Passes from King to Prince

On Sunday, Virat handed the baton over to another unique talent already fondly being called ‘Baby GOAT’ Shubman Gill

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IPL
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As Shubman Gill launched Wayne Parnell’s first ball of the game’s final over, for another effortless six over long on, Virat Kohli sat watching from the Royal Challengers dugout with a cap pulled low over his face – the Gujarat Titans knocked Royal Challengers Bangalore out of IPL 2023.

Moments later, we saw Virat giving Shubman a massive hug, congratulating him on the win, and for scoring a fantastic 100, very much Kohli style, while chasing, in a crunch game (well, for RCB!)

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And as Virat and Shubman met, something magical happened, that only us Indian cricket fanatics would grasp. India’s cricketing baton was gently passed on, with just a hug, a handshake, and a quiet compliment in the ear, from the King to the Prince. From someone who has been an amazing ‘dharohar’ of the mystical baton, injecting it with his own special talent, his own unique aggressive, all-heart, all-in, approach to the game – Virat Kohli, the baton was handed over to another unique talent, already fondly being called ‘Baby GOAT’ – Shubman Gill.

Yes, for us Indian cricket fans, this mystical cricket baton does exist. And sometimes it is possible to put a finger on that exact moment in cricket history, when the baton goes from one hallowed owner to the next. And quite literally, on the proverbial ‘stroke of the midnight hour’ (thanks to a rain delay), between the 21st and 22nd of May, 2023, at Bengaluru’s Chinnaswamy Stadium, the baton did indeed pass- from Virat to Shubman.

The moment was apt, auspicious, special, in many ways.

First of all, the occasion. Fittingly it was on the big stage. RCB, with bulk of its fortunes riding on Faf and Virat this season, had all to play for. This was the very last league game of IPL 2023. A must-win for RCB. Kohli had already played a fabulous match winning innings in the previous game, a century off 63 balls to get RCB a win away from the play-offs. But Virat was not done. On Sunday, after Faf’s relatively early dismissal, and after losing Glen Maxwell and Dinesh Karthik (yet again, this season!) cheaply, King Kohli rose to the occasion again, hammering yet another 100, only the 3rd batter to score back-to-back hundreds in IPL history. This 100, in 61 balls. Leaving Gujarat Titans a fairly massive target of 198 to get.

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So, the first pre-condition for the mystical baton passing was met. Kohli had set a very high benchmark that evening. Now, if Shubman was upto it, if he deserved that baton, if he did have a pre-destined claim to it, as Arthur’s claim to Excalibur, or Arjun’s claim to celestial bow ‘Gandiva’, then this night could be the night, this game could be that game.

Shubman too, had got to this moment in his own special way. The Gujarat Titans’ journey to the top of the league had been almost unstoppable, they were already top-of-the-table before this final match, and would stay up there even if they had lost. And Shubman, as in 2022, had a lot to do with the Titans’ success. But a worthy successor to Kohli, can’t possibly know the meaning of complacency. Setting his own personal benchmarks, Shubman, like Kohli, had also further raised his game. His previous game, against SRH had seen him also notch up his first century of IPL 2023, a 100 in just 58 balls. Five fewer than Kohli’s against the same opponents. And in this game too, the now trademark ‘Gill-esque’ calm intensity saw him eclipse Kohli’s century, with a match-winning 100 off just 52 balls. Within hours, Shubman had replicated Virat’s feat of scoring back-to-back 100s in the IPL with deceptive ease.

And so, there was complete honour in that magical ‘handover’ moment. Virat had played with his whole heart, raising his game, and Shubman had done the same. And yet fittingly, it was Shubman’s centuries that were a nose ahead of Virat’s, made in fewer deliveries, and on both occasions, for a winning cause. On the night of the 21st, it was the new claimant to the mystical baton, who defeated the holder in battle. And in sport, when game is well fought, there is no dishonour in defeat, just accolades all around. By the end of the league matches for IPL 2023, both Shubman and Virat stood tall in the race for the Orange Cap, and yet fittingly, here too, the emerging hero was just ahead of his idol, with Kohli at an aggregate of 639 runs, and Gill at 680.

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On Sunday, Virat handed the baton over to another unique talent already fondly being called ‘Baby GOAT’ Shubman Gill

IPL 2023: Shubman Gill celebrates his century against RCB on Sunday in Bengaluru.

(Photo: BCCI)

But let's be clear, while the big moment came during the IPL, this is not just about the IPL or T20 cricket. For us true blue ‘Bharatiya’ cricket fans, the moment acquired mystical dimensions because it was about way more. And for that, just step back a little bit, and zoom out to Shubman Gill’s statistics in 2023.

In every format of the game he has shone – he made a solid 194 ball century against the Australians in the 4th Test, earlier this year, being outperformed in that innings, by only one other batter, Virat Kohli, who made a superb 186. In ODIs he added even more gears to his game in 2023, with 3 centuries, including a terrific 208, in just 149 balls, getting India to a match-winning 349 against New Zealand. And in T20 cricket, making his India debut only this year, he played an unbelievable knock of 126 against New Zealand, scoring at a scorching strike rate of 200, recording the highest score by an Indian batter in international T20s. And just to understand how amazingly the stars are aligned, which Indian batter did he push to #2? Of course, Virat Kohli, who was the previous highest, at 122. So, a total of 5 centuries across all formats in 2023, another 2 in IPL 2023, and we are just in May. Clearly this year has the makings of going down as Shubman Gill’s breakout year.

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Speaking at the end of the match, Shubman explained his approach very simply – “I know myself, I know my game, and I believe in my game, and I just keep building on that”. Shubman is clearly emerging from the shadows of several batting greats in various formats – Dhoni, Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar, Pujara, just to name a few – as his own man, his own personality, and his own signature approach to the art of batting. The adjectives we hear again and again to describe him are - calm, effortless, mature. Sunil Gavaskar, himself a great opening batsman in Tests, speaking after the match, was all praise for India’s newest opening batter, saying – “He makes it look so simple.. even at the end of the innings you don’t see a bead of sweat… that is ‘Smoothman’ Gill!” His captain, Hardik Pandya said – “He relies on cricketing shots.. and so he has many options about where to place the ball..”. Yuvraj Singh in a video on social media right after the match said – “Shubman’s innings had maturity and explosiveness”. So, amazing compliments from the greats and from fantastic contemporaries.  

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This ability to conserve energy, to ration out his passion, and adjust his game to the need of the hour and the need of the format is perhaps what sets Gill apart for greatness. To play a patient Test innings on a day, change gears to score a rare double hundred in an ODI, or to bat at an explosive strike rate of 200 in a T20 arena, and doing each with the same amount of calm and grace – such ability is surely rare and special.

And for anyone fearing that the guy lacks a ‘fun-bone’, well Shubman’s ‘downtime’ avatar is pretty cool too. Do take a look at his ‘Kala Chashma’ hook-step video, and many other masti videos  starring other Team India colleagues, especially Ishan Kishan, who seems to be his preferred video collaborator.

One last bit of mystical conjecture from us Indian fans – Is there a chance that Shubman Gill himself felt this magical moment last night? Take a look at his cryptic tweet, his first after the RCB vs GT match, which simply says – “It Begins Now”. Naysayers would say, he’s just referring to the playoffs. But… some of us believe this was his subtle message to us – He knows it’s his time now, and he knows what the responsibility stands for. This was Shubman Gill telling us that the magical Indian cricket baton is now safe and secure with him, and that he will push himself to be a worthy successor to the amazing Virat Kohli.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Virat Kohli    Shubman Gill   IPL 2023 

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