Shubman Gill made a big first impression on his Test debut in Australia in 2020-21. The home bowlers didn’t know what to expect from the little known youngster, but what struck everyone was the time he had to play the hot pace of Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc. When his second innings 91 set up India’s heroic chase on the last day at the Gabba, Australia knew he can hurt them.
With every innings, the 23-year-old is getting better. On Saturday at the Narendra Modi Stadium, the opener provided fresh proof of his potential by notching up his first Test hundred at home — second overall — to lead India’s strong reply against Australia’s 480 on Day 3 of the final Test. Powered by his 128, India reached 289/3 at stumps, trailing by 191 runs.
On that Australia tour, Gill was brought in as India desperately sought to bounce back after the first Test loss in Adelaide, where they were dismissed for 36. In this series, he had to wait till the third Test at Indore amid the clamour for Gill to replace the struggling KL Rahul. And he has delivered again.
On Saturday, he had three seasoned pros for company as he made his best Test score. The opening partnership with Rohit Sharma was worth 74 while he and Cheteshwar Pujara combined to face 248 balls in a 113-run second wicket stand, during which he brought up only the second century for India in this series. He then raised 58 runs for the third wicket with idol Virat Kohli.
The other highlight for India was Kohli’s fine 59*. He overcame a nervy start to reach his first Test half-century in 14 months. He had added 44 runs with Ravindra Jadeja at stumps. The hosts will need Kohli to capitalise on his start. The pitch still looks good for batting, though there is a lot of time left in the game.
TACKLING THE TOUGH PHASE
Gill has showed he is the best young batting talent to emerge from India in recent times with his knocks across formats.
A world class Australia bowling attack tested him with skill and tactics. Oozing class, Gill smashed 12 fours and a six, though it was not a cakewalk. At the start of the day, he was tested by Nathan Lyon. The seasoned off-spinner looked to target the inside edge, for a bat-and-pad dismissal. There were a few tentative prods, but Gill adjusted and negotiated the spell.
Then post lunch, stand-in skipper Steve Smith packed the leg-side and got Cameron Green to bowl stump-to-stump. Wicket-keeper Alex Carey stood up to keep Gill inside the crease. The runs dried up. After taking a boundary off Green in the 39th over to move into the 70s, Gill had to wait for 16 overs for the next four.
The 10 runs from 70 to 80 took a long time. The young batter though showed a fine understanding of the situation and soaked in the pressure. But he pounced on the right deliveries. He broke the shackles in the 57th over with back-to-back fours with two beautiful shots, a punch through cover point followed by a sublime cover drive. He then struck Lyon over his head for four to move to 96 before sweeping Todd Murphy over short third-man to complete his hundred.
“You have to remind yourself constantly that things are going well because there was a phase where we didn’t hit a boundary for the longest time. At that time, you had to tell yourself it’s okay if you are not getting runs. If you stick to your processes then there will be an over where you will get 2-3 boundaries. It is not to lose patience; you can get out but you might also be able to get boundaries,” Gill said after play.
There was a phase when Gill was unable to carry on after getting set. But he is proving a quick learner. After scoring his first international hundred in December, against Bangladesh (110) in a Test, he is on a century spree. Saturday’s ton was his sixth in international cricket in four months (2 in Tests, 3 in ODIs, 1 in T20Is).
Gill said things fell into place after he realised he was getting over defensive when he got set. He then decided he won’t take undue pressure. “There was phase when I was scoring 40s and getting out. In the one-off fifth Test in England (in 2022), I scored 20-odd (17 & 4). I got a feeling that as soon as I was getting set, I was getting over defensive. I was thinking now that I have got set, I will have to bat for as long as possible. I was putting myself under too much pressure and that is not my game,” he said.
“Once I get set, I get into a sort of rhythm and that’s my game. So, I had to tell myself if I get dismissed while playing my natural game it’s fine. The period during which I got out after getting set, most dismissals were while trying to defend,” he said. “So, I needed to keep it a bit free-flowing. It was more about mental make-up, and I focused on that primarily.”