When Shubman Gill was preferred over India’s most recent double-centurion team-mate Ishan Kishan in the three-match One Day International series against Sri Lanka, there were obviously sympathies for the latter... but really, there should have been an assurance around this decision.
If you were feeling that it was the right call, it would have been largely because the player who was preferred instead was Gill. He had the numbers to back it up over a longer period of time.
And so, when Gill ended up as the second-highest run-getter in that series, finishing with 207 runs in 3 innings, the management could heave a sigh of relief, knowing that at least this decision need not be pondered over too much.
Come the first ODI against New Zealand and a stiffer challenge against the No 1 ranked ODI side, a much more intimidating bowling attack, Gill came into his own even further. Kishan had become the youngest male cricketer to score an ODI double-century not four matches ago, and Gill broke that record on Wednesday. The competition in the dressing room was, indeed, healthy.
The most interesting aspect about this competition is the difference in their batting styles across formats. Kishan’s explosiveness is a quality teams break banks for but it is often blunted by inconsistency. Contrastingly, Gill’s consistency is one teams savour, while he has been subjected to criticism around his strike rate in the shortest format.
“I think in the first ODI against Sri Lanka and in the third ODI, I was set, and I was looking to get a big score, but unfortunately that didn’t happen for me. Once I was set, the main focus for me was to obviously be there for the team and score as many runs as possible. And it feels good when it pays off,” said Gill in the post-match press conference on Wednesday.
“I think consistency is the key to everything. It’s one of the things I strive for – being consistent. As a batter, it is very important to have that in any format.”
Of course, Gill always appeared to be destined for big things... he has shown that at the U19 World Cup in 2018, the match-winning 91 at the Gabba Test, in flashes at the IPL and in the back-to-back ODI player of the series awards he received for his show against Zimbabwe and West Indies. But what should cement that notion was the seamless acceleration on his way to the double century.
His 149-ball stay at the double-paced Hyderabad pitch was laced with nineteen boundaries and nine sixes. The next top-score by an Indian batter in the innings was 34 and that made the approach by Gill all the more incredible.
Dissecting his approach, Gill said: “I was itching to unleash myself but with wickets falling at regular intervals, it was important for me to, it was also the message from the dressing room that I have to bat till the end – so that’s why I had to contain myself and sort of [bat] in a safe way so that a set batter doesn’t get out.”
He added: “The message from the dressing room was initially to go hard in the last five overs but after we lost Washi’s [Washington Sundar] wicket, it was to go hard in the last three. When I did hit a couple of sixes in the 48th over, that is where I had decided to go hard because the bowler [Blair Tickner] was my match-up.”
Against New Zealand, he displayed a complete batting performance, going after spin and high-pace alike. In fact, in a space of eleven-balls, he smashed six sixes towards the back-end of the innings.
Talking about how he had to capitalise and not wait for mere loose deliveries, Gill said, “And even today, when wickets were falling, my main focus was to show some intent to the bowler because it becomes very easy for the bowler to bowl dot balls if the batter is not going to show any intent that he’s going to hit any boundaries. Even if we have lost a wicket. So that was my intent, even when wickets were falling to show the bowler that I will hit you if you’re going to bowl bad balls.”
The consistency, he admits, is something he aims for. He has already demonstrated that he is a team guy. He has made it clear that picking apart the bowlers is almost always strategic. Now having shown that he has what it takes to really go big, Gill is truly on his way to become the next big thing.