Shubman Gill’s Debut: Batting Made Simple
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Test cricket is akin to a constantly turbulent, stormy sea, where, the shortcomings of a batsman, and that too of an opener, once found, become accentuated to such a level that the bowlers can take the form of a living nightmare for the said batter. Pertaining to this reason, in a white-ball world which continually tries to develop creative rules and regulation to make the game batsmen-centric, Test cricket remains the only format where the bowlers can breathe a sigh of relief, and even press their foot on the gas and intimidate the all-powerful batsmen. True to its name, this format is a stringent test of technique, composure, and patience.
In such an atmosphere, to predict the long-term success of a youngster based on a handful of matches is buffoonery of the highest order. It is very obvious that a plethora of factors play a significant role in making or breaking careers. Yet, at the same time, almost paradoxically, few innings played by a newcomer can provide teasers about the potential that they possess. Shubman Gill’s recent Test debut against the Aussies in the Boxing Day Melbourne Test can fall under this category of teasers.
This article would not look to convince the reader that Gill, who is rated very highly by cricket critics in India and perhaps across the globe, would go on to reach the pinnacle of batsmanship in so-and-so years. Nor will this article read too much into the past performance and the loaded first-class average of 69.11 of the twenty-one-year-old opener from Fazilka, Punjab. What this article aims to do is to look at his debut performance in isolation, and celebrate the pure, simplistic beauty that his two innings offered to the eyes of the beholder.
His first innings began at tricky, testing time – almost an hour before the end of day’s play – against a raging Mitchell Starc and an intense Pat Cummings. The batting conditions were such: the new Kookaburra was swinging, seaming, and zealously bouncing. For understandable reasons, he was looking clueless for the first couple of overs. While he got off the mark with a boundary down the ground off Cummings, he was also beaten multiple times before edging one to Marnus Labuschagne, who failed to grab the ball.
Once he found his feet and got the feel of the ball against his bat, his innings began to flow. Out of the eight fours that he struck, few were exceptionally dazzling. The offside punch and the half-flick-half-pull in front of square off Starc, and the mere defensive push down the ground for a couple instantly come to mind. At the same time, there is no denying that luck favoured him at times. There were numerous misses and inside and outside edges, but that takes nothing away from the rhythm he displayed in gusty conditions. In the context of the game, his 45 runs in the first innings proved vital for laying a platform for the middle order to build upon.
In the second innings, while chasing the small target of 70 in favourable batting conditions, Gill looked comfortable from the word go. His knock of 35* off just 36 balls, involving seven boundaries, was full of flair. Along with his captain and the man of the match, Ajinkya Rahane, the debutant made sure that his team completed the historical victory with relative ease.
Three aspects of his combined 80 runs from his first two innings that I found particularly impressive were: firstly, the surety, the clarity with which he was moving and defending the ball – confident, balanced in his footwork, and presenting the full face of the bat. The one watching him bat got the feeling that he had untangled the complicated art that batting can often look like and made it simple, as it is perhaps supposed to be.
Secondly, the modern, aggressive intent of not missing out on scoring opportunities that he displayed was also noteworthy. This was visible not only in the manner in which he tackled and attacked the Aussie pacers but also in his strategy against Nathan Lyon – jumping out of his crease at every available opportunity, right from the beginning. On the flip side of the coin, it can also be said that the fashion in which he got out is a by-product of this intent, but one should not starkly hold that against him. Like the old saying goes: one who lives by the sword, dies by it.
Thirdly, the fact that he was self-assured while playing on the front foot as well as the back foot was heartening. Although his drives gave the illusion that he was primarily a front-foot player, the ease with which he dispatched short balls – pulling and flicking them in front of square or ducking under them – told a different tale.
There is no possible way to decipher whether Gill would permanently carve out his place in the starting XI or go on to reach the heights that many expect him to. However, what is undeniable is the fact that, with his simplified batting which pleases the eye, he made it worthwhile to wake up in the early hours of the morning and watch the second Test match of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2020-21.
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