Shubman Gill Enters Race For Indian Test Opener
When Shubman Gill received his maiden Test call-up for the three-match series against South Africa, he was one of the three openers picked. Unfortunately for him, the other two, Rohit Sharma and Mayank Agarwal were the ones who played and went on to put on an exhibition of opening batting.
Essentially, it was Rohit who kept Gill out of the playing XI as Mayank Agrawal had already sealed his spot with decent performances against Australia and West Indies. Around four months later, with Rohit Sharma out of the New Zealand tour due to a calf strain, it is Shubman Gill who has rightfully retained his place in the Test squad and is in line for a debut.
Putting Himself in Contention
Most first heard of Gill when he bagged the Player of the Series award in the last edition of the under-19 World Cup. The interest peaked when one of India's finest limited-overs batsman, Yuvraj Singh, termed him "a very special talent" and put his money on Gill serving India for a long time. The opener substantiated the claims through his performances in domestic cricket and the highly-rated Indian Premier League.
While Gill's List A record (an average of over 45) is good, it is not remarkable. His first-class record though, is truly extraordinary. From just 20 matches, the batsman has piled up close to 2,000 runs at a ridiculous average of 71.32, including six centuries.
The thing that is rare among modern-day batsmen and one that separates Gill from the boys is his ability to play big innings. It has more to do with his natural run-making ability and free-flowing style and less with grinding it out. At just 20, Gill has the best of 268 in first-class cricket, a feat many only achieve in their mid-twenties.
The right-hander is renowned for his ability to pick the gaps and cream boundaries rather than muscle the ball out of the park. By that yardstick, Gill does not have bad numbers in the IPL either. An average of close to 35 and a strike rate of 130+ is more than acceptable for a batsman having featured in only two seasons.
The Maiden Call-up
Gill first got a taste of international cricket when he was picked by India for the ODIs against New Zealand last year, following disciplinary action against KL Rahul for the 'Koffee with Karan' episode. The youngster could not make a mark with scores of nine and seven in his two innings and his push for the 2019 World Cup squad suffered a fatal blow.
Gill was again in contention for a place in the squad for the series against West Indies, just after the World Cup. In the five-match one-day series against West Indies A, Gill, playing for India A, finished as the top run-getter with 218 runs in four matches, averaging 54.50 with a strike rate of 98.19. He hit three half-centuries and returned as the Man of the Series.
Not picked for India, Gill did not shy away from making his disappointment known. "I was waiting for the Indian senior team to be announced and expected to be selected for at least one of the squads. It was disappointing not to get picked but I am not going to spend time thinking over it. I'll keep scoring runs and performing to the best of my ability to impress the selectors," Gill siad after missing the bus.
And he did just that. The maiden Test call-up for the home series against South Africa came knocking.
In Top Form
Although Gill has been churning out runs in domestic cricket for two years now, it was his performance against New Zealand A recently that had the biggest say in his selection. The Punjab batsman scored 83 and 204* in Christchurch less than a week before the squad announcement and reaped the dividends.
The hosts were in a winning situation at one point after India A was bowled out for just 216 in the first innings and New Zealand A declared at 562/7. Once both Indian openers were back in the hut cheaply again and India ran the risk of losing the match, Gill, batting at No. 4, first steadied the innings along with Priyank Panchal and then batted on for another two-and-a-half hours alongside Hanuma Vihari to save the match. In the process, he also converted his sixth first-class century into a double and remained unbeaten on 204, with 22 fours and four sixes.
In Line For Test Debut?
In an informal chat with the media on Monday, BCCI President Sourav Ganguly said that Shubman Gill will be replacing Rohit Sharma for the Test series against New Zealand. Ganguly's statement can be inferred as Gill being the direct swap for Rohit in the playing XI or just in the squad.
Even if the latter is true, Gill, with the weight of runs behind him, has the opportunity of pipping Prithvi Shaw to the post as Mayank Agarwal's opening partner.
If given a go, it will be no mean feat for Gill to replicate the sparkling success of the Sharma-Agarwal combination in Tests against South Africa. Even if the 20-year-old can reach close to that marker, he can be assured of a bright future.
(Saksham Mishra is a freelance sports journalist, justifying hours of watching sports by scribbling down a few logical lines that might just about hold your interest. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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