By the conclusion of the fifth over of the T20I against New Zealand on 1 February, Shubman Gill had already racked up five boundaries. 32 runs from 17 deliveries – the scoreboard highlighted, coming at a strike rate of nearly 200. Strike rate, for the uninitiated, has been used, overused, and misused as a kryptonite by Gill’s critics, in a desperate bid to weaken his case for selection in the Indian team.
Perhaps, the critics might seek refuge in statistics to prove they are not mere denigrators, and that there are drawbacks in the 23-year-old’s game. Indeed, he always has had the inclination towards 'slow and steady wins the race.'
So, what changed on Wednesday, when he struck 32 off his first 17 deliveries? If you had not had the chance of watching the game, you can try forming an educated guess.
Is it that the unceasing chatter around strike rate and intent (or the lack of it) got to his head, and he somehow, magically, ‘freed the shackles’? Or maybe, spending time with Suryakumar Yadav had its effect, and Gill is now playing the most flamboyant, in-your-face shots?
Wait, you spend your leisure binge-reading conspiracy theories, so your deduction is that Gill just got a bit too happy with the new budget announcement?
You cannot be farther from the truth, for absolutely nothing had changed. The player, for whom words like ‘class,’ ‘elegance’ and ‘grace’ are thrown around way too often, had not miraculously changed his batting style overnight.
Two drives, one backfoot punch, one square cut and a flick – these were the five shots which yielded Gill 20 runs from five deliveries inside the first five overs. All of them were textbook, as orthodox as they possibly could have been, in a format that is known for favouring the unorthodox. And yet, so very effective.
He was still the classy, elegant and graceful opener, except that like he has done all throughout his career, a new dimension was unlocked, and with it, many questions were answered – once, and for all.
Breaking and Re-Moulding Style for KKR
Since the commencement of his professional journey, the Punjab-born cricketer has moulded, broken and re-moulded his game to fit the immediate requirements of his team, albeit also ensuring he holds dearly to his forte.
An excellent campaign in the ICC Men’s U19 World Cup 2018 helped him bag a Rs 1.80 crore contract in the Indian Premier League. Lucrative, certainly, except that there was one major issue. The team who signed him, Kolkata Knight Riders, were already packed to the brim with renowned top-order batters.
All but 18 years of age at that time, Gill had to unlearn his game as a number three, to learn the completely new trade of an IPL finisher. For very obvious reasons, the start was difficult as he could score only 65 runs in his first five knocks, before eventually getting a hang of what is expected.
Harsh Start to Life in International Cricket
Gill ultimately went on to accumulate 203 runs at a strike rate of 146.04, following which he was called up to the Indian ODI side for an away series against New Zealand. Yet again, the start was miles away from what his talent promised.
Statistics will show – only 16 runs in two matches. Beyond the numbers, however, lie the fact that the pitches were not conducive for the batters, and almost the entire Indian top order struggled to score runs. All of those arguments, however, were not enough to extend his stay in the team.
The lure of a prodigy is such that while it is human nature to celebrate any sight of an extraordinary emergence, it is also normal to discard it the very moment it starts looking ordinary.
The millennials had already termed Gill a ‘Virat Kohli regen’ for his strokeplay, the editors had already made compilations of his best shots, and the writers had already spent thousands of words explaining how he is, well and truly, the next big thing in Indian cricket.
All of that, just for the batter to blow his chance away?
The Chance That Did Not Slip
For nearly two years, there was no sign of Gill in the Indian team. 296 runs in the 2019 IPL season was not considered good enough to hand him another opportunity in international cricket, but upping the tally to 440 in 2020 worked its charm.
Yet again, the batter had to do things the hard way, as on the horizon was a challenging trip to Australia. Two back-to-back defeats in the ODI series, which subsequently meant the series was already lost, left India clutching at straws, ready to do all they can to avoid the embarrassment of a whitewash.
Right on cue – out went an underperforming Mayank Agarwal, and in came Gill. He scored a commendable 39-ball 33 in that match, and since then, the journey has been rather smooth.
He made his Test debut in the same month and scored 70 impressive runs, against a formidable Aussie bowling attack on a gruelling Melbourne Cricket Ground pitch. Between then till now, Gill firmly established himself as a mainstay in the Indian Test and ODI side.
Whilst donning white, he has scored 736 runs at an average of 32. The numbers in ODIs are beyond exemplary – 1254 runs at an average of 73.76. Amid all of this, he also won the IPL title with his current franchise, Gujarat Titans.
Yet, he had to earn 28 international caps across the longer formats before being handed a chance in T20Is.
Unlocking a New Dimension
The start was, no prizes for guessing, not up to the mark. He was dismissed for scores of under 15 in four of his first five innings, whilst in the only exception, he scored 46 runs at a strike rate of 127.77 on a day when India’s cumulative strike rate was 190.
Questions were raised regarding his selection in T20Is, but just like he did in the other two formats, the batter silenced the doubters in splendid fashion.
On 1 February, after scoring 32 runs in the first 17 deliveries, he opted not to apply brakes and ended up scoring an unbeaten 126 from just 63 deliveries.
Tests. ODIs. T20Is – Shubman Gill now boasts of a century in every format. He has answered questions – once, and for all.