Shubman Gill takes advantage of second chance to demonstrate his ability to meet India’s expectations | Tanya Aldred
Once he had overcome his initial doubts, Shubman Gill’s performance against England was as refreshing as a spring bouquet adorned with narcissus flowers. However, unlike Yashasvi Jaiswal, he did not celebrate his hundred with a double-handed salute to the crowd. Instead, he calmly waved his bat and let out a sigh of relief.
Gill had been lucky to make it through the early onslaught from England’s bowlers on a cooler Visakhapatnam morning. Jimmy Anderson nipped the top of Rohit Sharma’s off-stump in his first over, removed Jaiswal in his next, and Gill looked as if he would inevitably follow, poking about like someone batting away brambles with a bread stick.
He was declared out lbw to Tom Hartley for four runs, but after being asked to review by Shreyas Iyer, he was saved when the third umpire detected a slight bat edge onto his pad. He smiled widely under his helmet. A fortunate break occurred in the following over when England reviewed an lbw decision from Anderson, which was initially given not out, but the umpire’s call stood. A few more balls were narrowly missed by the slip fielders. Joe Root injured his right little finger while trying to reach for one, which could potentially benefit India.
But slowly Gill found his feet, now batting in a cap, as he and Iyer knocked England’s spinners for singles without too much worry. He cashed in when they got it wrong, cutting Rehan Ahmed twice to the rope, sweeping a Hartley full toss with a great spoonful of aplomb, and reaching fifty before lunch with two more consecutive boundaries off Ahmed, down the ground and through the covers.
During a calm stroll, three individuals were suddenly interrupted by his assault on Ahmed, resulting in three consecutive boundaries: a six hit down the pitch, a sweeping four that nearly hit a ballgirl, and a skillful on-drive with precise footwork. The hundred that followed was somewhat underwhelming, as was his reverse-sweep that led to his dismissal a few balls later.
The mantle of Tendulkar is a heavy one. It drags and clamps as much as it uplifts. Virat Kohli has learned to live with it. For Gill, who was handed the chains after making 351 in an under-16 game, after making a double-century on his Vijay Merchant Trophy debut, after being named man of the series for India Under-19s against England, after being bought for $230,000 by the Indian Premier League team Kolkata Knight Riders aged 18, it has been hard to bear the weight of expectation.
Gill made his debut in the exciting 2020-21 Covid series against Australia, filling in for Kohli who had left for paternity leave. Despite India’s crushing defeat of 36 runs in the second innings of the first Test, Gill showed his skill with a stylish 45 at the top of the order. Throughout the series, he consistently scored well and played a crucial role in India’s victory in the fourth and final Test. In this match, he impressed with a thrilling 91 in the second innings, including a six off Mitchell Starc. Alongside Pujara and Pant, Gill helped India successfully chase down 328 runs with 19 balls to spare, leading to their triumph in the series and retention of the Bradman-Gavaskar trophy. This was also Australia’s first loss at the Gabba in 32 years.
The whole nation of India was captivated by Gill. Author Mukul Kesavan compared him to a young Cary Grant taking the field for India. Australian writer Gideon Haigh hailed him as a rare talent that only comes along once in a generation.
However, there were obstacles ahead. He faced physical injuries, a decline in performance and self-assurance. He achieved success in limited-overs cricket, becoming the youngest player to score a double century in one-day internationals and scoring two consecutive centuries in the IPL. However, in Test matches, he struggled to score as quickly as his potential indicated he should.
Following his impressive 128-run performance against Australia in Ahmedabad last March, the player faced a series of disappointing scores, with only three exceeding 25 and none surpassing 40, in the next 12 innings. His position on the team was uncertain, especially as the Indian selectors chose to prioritize younger players in the absence of Kohli (due to personal reasons) and KL Rahul (hamstring injury) for the England series. This led to speculation about which of the young talents would secure their spots on the team.
Gill has been confirmed to play for the remainder of the series and, unless England’s Ben Stokes can once again achieve the unlikely, he has helped India reach an equal position with Jasprit Bumrah and Jaiswal. This boost of confidence could greatly ease the burden.