If there was ever a time for Shubman Gill to boss a phenomenon called Indian Premier League, it’s now. The young opener has dominated the first quarter of 2023 like no one else. It’s only been three months but Gill already has a double ton in ODIs and a century each in Test cricket and T20Is, upgrading his resume to an all-format player for India. As of now, he is the only batter with at least one hundred in all three formats this year.
Don’t get us wrong, the right-handed batter played a massive role in Gujarat Titans’ triumph last season, but it’s still not enough when you weigh his talent. 483 runs at an average of 34.5 and a strike rate of 132.3, studded with four fifties, Gill had his best IPL season last year, but people who have followed his recent progress know that this is just the start.
The 23-year-old has all the ingredients to get close to that 2016 version of Virat Kohli, but for that to happen, Gill has to abandon the older version of himself and bat like he owns every single bowler on this planet. He is good against pace, he is good against spin, Gill has no reason to hold himself back and give people an opportunity to talk about his “strike rate”.
The time has come for Gill to take that next step and become Gujarat’s batting mainstay. He did score a decent amount of runs last year but Gujarat’s batting largely revolved around their skipper Hardik Pandya and David Miller, with them and Rahul Tewatia winning them the majority of their games. That might not happen this year, meaning Gill will have to contribute more.
Gujarat’s middle-order (4-7) had the best average (40.5) in IPL 2022, with the second-best being Sunrisers Hyderabad’s 28.6, but their top-order (1-3) didn’t really set the stage on fire. They had the third-worst scoring rate (7.5) and fourth-worst average (27.4), making things more and more difficult for the star-studded middle-order.
And, things might not change this year if Gill doesn’t fire. Wriddhiman Saha is decent in the powerplay but gives you nothing post the restriction. On top of that, he is now 38 and you don’t know what you are going to get from him. The likes of KS Bharat and Urvil Patel are still unproven at this level and we all know how Matthew Wade fared at the top last year.
Gujarat did get Kane Williamson in the auction but his strike rate is always going to be a concern in this format, and so will Sai Sudharsan’s. So, what can Gill do different from what he did last season? His first job would be to get that powerplay strike rate up from 118.13 to 135-140. In fact, he had a strike rate of 103.9 in his first 10 deliveries, fewer than several Indian openers.
His strike rates in the middle (144.97) and death overs (152.94) were pretty good and you would expect that from someone like Gill who goes about his business in a bit conventional manner. No matter what, anything less than 130 in the powerplay is a crime in this modern era and that’s the least Gill could do with so many shots in his arsenal.
If you dig deep, in IPL 2022, Gill operated at a strike rate of 148.84 against spin in the first six overs without getting dismissed. However, against pace, he had an average of 25.17 and a strike rate of just 108.63. Amongst 19 batters who faced at least 100 deliveries of pace in the powerplay, Gill had the fourth-worst strike rate. You know who was the worst? Williamson, with a strike rate of 76.
Five of Gill’s six dismissals against pace in the powerplay came via good length and that was the only length that troubled him throughout the last edition. The opponents would know there’s no point bowling half-volleys and bouncers to Gill and if he can manage to work around his strengths, the 23-year-old could get those powerplay numbers up as well.
Once he is set, we all know how dangerous Gill can be. His numbers against pace in the powerplay were terrible, but that strike rate quickly went up to 150 in the middle overs. Gill has had trouble against the moving ball but we hardly see that happen in the IPL, meaning it’s the fear of getting out that might be keeping him chained.
Not many would have thought that Gill would break into the T20I set-up with those numbers but the batter from Punjab managed to leapfrog the likes of Prithvi Shaw and Ruturaj Gaikwad in the pecking order under the leadership of Pandya. With the 2024 T20 World Cup being in West Indies and the USA, Gill is someone who could star on those slow surfaces.
He also has impressive numbers since the end of the last IPL. In 12 T20s, he has managed 462 runs at an average of 46.2 and a strike rate of 160.4. Playing for Punjab in the SMAT 2022-23, Gill clobbered a 55-ball 126 against Karnataka and was then selected for the home series against Sri Lanka.
In his first five T20I innings, Gill got scores of 7, 5, 46, 7 and 11. Then came the series-decider against New Zealand in Ahmedabad and that’s when Gill went berserk. The opener hammered 12 fours and nine maximums in his 63-ball 126* and registered the highest T20I score by an Indian batsman. That knock gave everyone a glimpse of what Gill is capable of in this format.
The problem, however, remains the first six overs. In those aforementioned 12 T20s since the last IPL, Gill has a strike rate of 162.16 in the middle overs and 308.82 at the death, but it drops down to 121.88 when it comes to the powerplay. If he could improve on this front, Gill has the potential to become a complete T20 batter.
This has been Shubman Gill’s year so far, but that doesn’t mean he can’t challenge himself.
He must change.
He must keep evolving and become something new.
This won’t only help him in the long run but will also make things easier and better for Gujarat and India.