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No longer wasteful, Gill takes significant step in his Test evolution

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Last updated on 11 Mar 2023 | 05:09 PM
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No longer wasteful, Gill takes significant step in his Test evolution

The right-handed opener's 128 in Ahmedabad is further indication that he’s leveled up as a red-ball batter

Here’s an interesting conspiracy theory: sometime in August of last year, something happened to Shubman Gill. Not exactly sure what, but thanks to the said incident, he ended up gaining secret superpowers.

No? Sounds ridiculous? Okay.

But in all seriousness, how else can you explain what he’s done in these past six months?

Great players eventually tick all the boxes people expect them to tick; that’s normal. 

What’s not remotely normal is doing so in a 200-day period. That’s superhuman stuff.

200 days ago, Gill had no international tons, was not a regular in any format, and was an individual who people perceived as being talented but inconsistent. He really hadn’t ticked any box despite his evidently overflowing talent.

It is almost as if he took it personally. 

It’s March 2023 and Gill’s CV looks something like this:

ODI century ✔️

ODI double century ✔️

T20I century ✔️

Second-fastest in history to 1000 ODI runs ✔️

Away Test century ✔️

Home Test century ✔️

On Saturday in Ahmedabad, he ticked the only box that was remaining to be checked: a test ton at home.

There’s an irony here: it is the box that, when his international career began, everyone unanimously believed he would tick first.

That way, it’s almost absurd that it turned out to be the last of the lot. 

But make no mistake, it is arguably the most significant  — for by scoring a ton at home and getting a nagging monkey off his back, Gill has taken a major step in his evolution as a Test batter.

With Gill at the Test level, it has never been a question of ability. 

Heading into this encounter, his average read a middling 30.48 but he’d shown enough across matches, in patches, to get everyone on the same page — that one day, he will take off in the longest format.

It has always been a question of when and not if.

But there’s unquestionably been frustration, and it has stemmed from the fact that the when has taken more time than what most people thought it would. 

Post the 91 at the Gabba and an entertaining, stroke-filled home debut in Chennai — in which he racked up a fifty — it seemed there was no scenario in which Gill wouldn’t dominate at this level immediately. 

As if his first-class average of 66.55 wasn’t already a reason enough to believe so, he also passed the eye test. It was impossible to not picture him accumulating ton after ton, and doing so without breaking a sweat; that was how good he looked.

Owing to a multitude of reasons, that did not happen. Among other things, being susceptible to the ball coming in contributed to Gill’s downfall. As did the difficulty level of the wickets he batted on.

But above all, nothing contributed to Gill’s undoing in red-ball cricket as much as his tendency to not capitalize.

In December, we did a detailed analysis of the same prior to his maiden Test ton in Chattogram. To summarize: Gill was guilty of throwing away starts far too many times. Especially at home.

Between his fifty on debut in Chennai and the start of this Test, Gill batted 11 times in India and averaged 21. 

At least on three different occasions — Kanpur and Wankhede 2x — he was guilty of not following the golden rule which is a prerequisite for batters eyeing to forge a successful career - ‘when you’re batting at home and there’s an opportunity, you need to seize it at all costs.’

You win the toss and bat first on a good surface? You need to ensure that you go big. You’ve gotten off to a good start? You need to cash in. You’re batting on a road? You certainly have to get to that three-figure mark.

Stat-padding is looked down upon on Twitter but the truth is every great player in history has stat-padded. Consistently making the fullest use of favourable circumstances is as vital as bailing the team out on the odd occasion. 

The century on Saturday marked the second time in three Tests Gill capitalized on a situation that was there for the taking — the other being the second-innings ton in Chattogram — and it is further indication that slowly but surely, he is leveling up as a red-ball batter.

The improvement, though, is not a byproduct of a technical adjustment. Rather, it is clarity of thought in the mind that’s helped Gill overcome the psychological barrier that saw him throw away start after start. 

"There was a phase in the middle when I was scoring 40s and 50s (52 and 44 against New Zealand in 2021) and getting out and when I played the one-off fifth Test in England, I scored some 20 odd (17) and I got out early in that innings. I got a feeling that as soon as I was getting set, I was getting over-defensive and over-cautious,” Gill said on the back of his maiden home ton.

“I was thinking now that I have got set, I will have to bat as long as possible. I was putting myself under too much pressure and that is not my game.

"So I had to tell myself that I shouldn't put too much pressure on myself when a situation like this arises next time, that I must convert now that I am set. I needed to keep it a bit free-flowing. It was more about mental make up and I focussed on that primarily."

On the day, though Gill’s innings progression did not hint towards him fully cutting loose — he went at SR 55 for his first fifty runs and then SR 53 for his last 78 — there were clear signs that he was crystal clear about not getting stuck mentally.

None more than the fact that after getting to his fifty, he tripled his boundary tally. 

It might not sound extraordinary considering batters, in general, tear into attacks as their innings progresses but mind you, Gill remarkably struck eight fours during a phase in which the Australian bowlers were extremely tight and did not give an inch, conceding just 81 across a 34-over period. 

The aforementioned phase incidentally coincided with the period in which both Green and Starc managed to considerably reverse the ball. 

Batting was not easy, tremendous pressure was being exerted to the extent that one small error would have proven fatal, yet Gill was in such a zone that he not only never flinched, but punished the bowlers everytime they marginally erred. 

It was a knock of supreme control — quite literally, for in the past 12 years in India, there has only ever been one ton that’s been scored with a higher control percentage than the 95.3% displayed by Gill.

Such has been the case with Gill thus far that once it’s started to rain, it has poured. 

It took him nine ODIs, an unbeaten 98 and an unbeaten 82 before getting to that elusive three-figure mark in the 50-over format but once he got there, three more arrived, including a double-ton. 

There was, in fact, a larger knock-on effect as he also went on to score a T20I hundred.

Now that he’s got that home Test ton that evaded him for two years, expect several in Tests to follow.

The wait is over. The when has arrived. 

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