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India vs England: Gabba to Ranchi, Shubman Gill slowly builds a reputation

The technique hasn’t always been top-class but there is no denying the temperament that has fuelled his rise.

Of the many remarkable feats to have showed Bazball its rightful place in contemporary cricket, possibly the most telling has been Shubman Gill’s unbeaten second-innings fifty. No risk, no drama, no exaggerated feet movement, just the kind of measured essay that vindicates a simplistic way of scoring.

India’s Shubman Gill celebrates his half-century during Day 4 of the 4th Test match against England in Ranchi (ANI)

It’s also remarkable because probably no one had thought before this series that Gill would be able to grind his way to such a crucial win like Ranchi. Gabba, 2021—when he had scored that epic 91—is bound to crop up here but even Gill would admit that a) that pitch had far more consistent bounce and b) it’s always more difficult to chase at home purely because of the psychological aspect of doing it in front of your people.

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You can’t ignore the temperament though. If it was striking in Gabba, at Ranchi it was a level higher. It’s not as if Gill had dropped off the radar in the intervening time. Last year was spent confirming, and then excelling in his position as India’s white-ball marauder.

One-day hundreds, even a double, came at ridiculous ease but a similar fluency was lacking in Tests. Centuries against Bangladesh aren’t always given the respect they deserve but the hundred at Ahmedabad last year had come against a high-quality Australian attack. So when Gill hadn’t scored a fifty in 12 consecutive innings, the possibility that this might not be his format after all had begun making its way to different conversations.

That way, the hundred at Visakhapatnam was timely, but it wasn’t chanceless by any means. Gill continued to look vulnerable, hesitant with his shot selection and even cagey about taking singles at times. But the runs kept coming. An aggregate of 342 at an average of 48.85 thus has scripted an unusual tale of resurgence where Gill’s technique and skill may not have always been top class but there was never any dearth of runs or character. And in Tests, you need both to justify your place.

Also hiding in plain sight is a curious statistic that underpins Gill’s batting wit. Averages of 20.72 and 31.23 in the first and second innings heavily erode the notion that Gill bats best when pitches are at their best. But when that becomes 43.9 and 44.14 in the third and fourth innings respectively, it begins to narrate a different tale.

Both the hundreds in Chittagong as well as Visakhapatnam had come in the third innings. If those still don’t seem arduous enough, then the fifty against England in 2021 on a fifth day Chennai pitch must have been a lot more challenging. Gabba, too, can raise its hand here in favour of Gill purely because of the circumstances and momentousness of that chase.

Even with those two innings, boundaries made up half the charm. The premise at Ranchi—half the side gone for 120—was such that it mandated dogged survival instinct, putting a prize on the wicket and just tiring out the bowlers. Gill ticked that box emphatically.

Overall too, barring Yashasvi Jaiswal, no one from either side has come even close to the 610 balls Gill has faced in this series so far. Notable was his technique; the high elbow, the still head and a very nimble footwork for drives and a solid forward defence. “It’s one of those things I’ve practiced a lot, step out and play for the singles or defend,” said Gill after the match. “Because generally when you’re stepping out you’re always looking for the big shot, but I think if you can step out and you have this game where you can step out and defend or look for the single I think it really helps on wickets like these.”

But Gill’s innings should also be lauded in its entirety, in particular the modes of play it encompassed. A boundary hadn’t come in more than 30 overs but he wasn’t impatient. Chucking the more adventurous shots to stick to only a defensive block and nudging the ball through the gaps requires a level of buy-in to the old way of batting not many are capable of.

“This would probably go down as my only innings where I didn’t hit a boundary, like a four, after scoring a fifty,” Gill said. “But you have to see the situation and you have to play the situation sometimes, and I think the way their bowlers were bowling, they were bowling really good lines, and they had also been protecting their boundaries pretty well, so it was important for us to just keep playing the game and not let the bowlers bowl too many maidens, because then on a wicket like this you are waiting for a magical ball to happen to you, so that was the plan. Keep taking the singles, and as soon as they give us anything loose, try to pounce on that.”

Ultimately, it was a multi-purpose innings — dousing the probability of an implosion, then safely navigating through choppy waters and giving the final charge only when the target was within handshaking distance. In the context of the situation, it was the type of innings that can only put Gill in better stead for the rest of his career.

Time will be required, by him and by us, to truly appreciate the magnitude of what Gill has achieved. This was no hundred, but just like Gabba’s 91, this too shall find its place on a different honours board.


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