At one stage during the Indian innings in the second semi-final of the ICC U-19 World Cup against Pakistan, the commentators were discussing about the amount of time they had been speaking about Shubman Gill when former skipper of India’s women team Anjum Chopra expressed her helplessness saying the batsman was forcing them with the amount of screen time he was taking.
Chopra wasn’t off the mark. Gill has spent what seems like an eternity at the crease in this World Cup, averaging 170.50 in the five matches with a strike rate of above 100 and has been the mainstay of the Indian batting along with skipper Prithvi Shaw and opener Manjot Kalra.
The 18-year-old from Punjab is known for his attacking play and the number of shots he can play. So much so that whenever he is out early, his family members assume that he lost his wicket trying to play a big shot.
But on Tuesday, Gill showed that he has a very sound head on those broad shoulders as he anchored the Indian innings brilliantly and held it together under pressure to set up a big win over the arch-rivals.
When Gill walked into bat, India were cruising with an opening partnership of 89 in just 15 overs and he would have the licence to go for the kill. He began with his trademark short arm pull and was looking to cut loose once when situation changed abruptly with the fall of wicketkeeper Harvik Desai.
Medium pacer Arshad Iqbal reduced India to 166 for 5 with three wickets in three overs and it was clear that India needed Gill to rebuild rather than destruct.
It was a period where Pakistan’s part-timers were bowling to their field and looking to frustrate the Indian batsmen and induce them into playing false shots. A general reaction from stroke players in such situation is to improvise and hit their way out. And no one would have really grudged that kind of bailing out approach from an 18-year-old, who probably is yet to cut his teeth in the first class circuit.
But Gill, knowing the importance of his wicket, just decided to put his head down and ensure that he was at the crease till the end. Unlike his innings against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe where he used the cross bat shots at will to amass runs, the 18-year-old preferred to rotate the strike and hardly played an uppish shot during his 67 run partnership with Anukul Roy for the sixth wicket.
The longer boundaries at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch, notwithstanding, his 102 run unbeaten knock had just seven hit to the fence and that is probably the single-most important pointer to show his approach on Tuesday.
And when a batsman can play the kind of late upper cut he played against Iqbal – waiting for the ball to bounce and steer it at the last minute for a boundary – it is always difficult to curb the natural instinct to play the big shots.
More importantly, the boy who was bought for a whopping Rs 1.8 crore by Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL auction over the weekend spoke to the batsman at the other end in between overs and probably ensured that the likes of Roy and those following did not play rash shots and cause the team to lose further wickets.
The mid-pitch conferences and some good old luck ultimately helped him reach his first three figure score of the tournament. He was probably guilty of throwing away the good work against Bangladesh in the quarterfinals and Australia in the tournament opener but on Tuesday, the 18-year-old reached the mark on the final delivery of the innings.
With just two balls left in the over and the last man at the crease, Gill would have been left stranded had the Pakistan fielders hit the stump at the non-strikers end as Ishan Porel was way out of his ground during the single.
But he survived and Musa’s no-ball on the next delivery allowed Gill to comfortably reach the landmark.
Dravid’s calming influence
Gill’s instinct is to attack. Blast from the beginning. The approach helps him make rapid runs, but to make big scores, it doesn’t. So, Gill would get off to a flyer and fall. When England U-19 toured India, Gill, in the first two youth Tests (in the second innings of the second Test, he made a 111-ball 102) and the first youth ODI, fell trying to hasten the run-scoring rate. His coach, Rahul Dravid, noticed the pattern.
“He [Dravid] came and told me that, ‘you are such a good striker of the ball, why do you want to hit the ball in the air?’” Gill had told icc-cricket.com.
“So he gave me a challenge in the next two matches to not score any runs with aerial shots, and I got a hundred in the next two matches. He was like, ‘see, you can score so much on the ground, why do you need to hit it in the air?’”
Gill’s scores in the next three innings: 38 not out, 147, 66.
After making a match-winning 86 against Bangladesh in the quarter-final of the World Cup, Gill said: “He (Rahul Dravid) is a great man. He always tells me to play along the ground and not try too much aerial shots.”
Speaking about the innings against Pakistan, Gill admitted that the wicket wasn’t easy to bat on and his target was to somehow reach the 250 run mark. “The pitch wasn’t that good to bat. I thought 250-260 was a good total and the fast bowlers will be able to defend it,” said the 18-year-old who has an average of over 100 in U-19 one day internationals.
When asked in the post match presentation whether he thinks he could dominate any particular format of the game, Gill replied, “Cricket nowadays is all about adaptation. I will like to play all three formats.”
On Tuesday, he showed that ability to adapt. Now if he can build on that maturity and skill, India would have a genuine match-winner for the foreseeable future in all forms of the game.