Photo: Amit Dave/Reuters
For reasons that are never quite clear, cricketers rave about left-handed aesthetics. Left-handed cover drives are better. Left-handed late cuts are slower. Shubman Gill is the right-handed version of a left-handed one. Aside from the odd dismissal like the Indore test, he makes all of his shots look effortless. He is tall, slender, graceful, bending in the wind, someone made more of willow than the racquet he holds. He has the power that comes from tensile strength, slimness that gets back into shape and brings out all the power of that movement.
In the middle of day three of the Ahmedabad Test between India and Australia, as the series finale made its way in the worst of the afternoon heat, Cameron Green attempted to bowl a bouncer. Gil’s train shot broke it away. Only for one run, but it reminded me of the moves Green had smashed on his way to a century the day before. That run took Gill to 80. In Green’s next over, Gill whipped through the roof two in a row. Soon they were both in the hundreds club on Indian soil.
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Both players are 23 years old. Both are the youngest batters on their teams, with growth potential to match. Very different in style, similar in meaning. Differed mainly in the way they were administered. Identified as a unique talent in Australian cricket, Green was selected at the age of 21 and left on the Test team until his modest winnings soared. Chosen at the age of 21, Gill made a crucial contribution almost immediately and has since endured three separate spells of injury and absence in two years.
Opening batting for India is a highly dangerous proposition. After Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul had a rotating triumvirate with touches of Gautam Gambhir from 2014 to 2018, Prithvi Shaw came over for a hot minute, Mayank Agarwal teamed up with Hanuma Vihari, Rahul came back for Vihari, Rohit Sharma came back for Rahul, Shaw tried again before Gill’s debut, Rohit got fit to replace Agarwal, Gill missed Rahul, back to Gill and Agarwal, a Rahul interregnum until Rohit returned, Agarwal went out, Cheteshwar Pujara drew one Emergency Shift, Briefly hitting with Gill until it was Hello, old friend Rahul, then Rohit joined again until what should be, but certainly won’t be the last phase of Rahul now that Gill is back.
If you’re confused, try to be in the team. In less than three months since December, Gill has completed his first Test hundred in Bangladesh, centuries in a row, including 208 in one-day games against Sri Lanka and New Zealand, and achieved India’s highest T20 score of 126 against the Kiwis. However, he was absent from the start of the current series against Australia. Only after two goalless games by Rahul did his chance come. For most teams, the 128 would buy a longer run in the side at Ahmedabad. Following the Indian pattern, this is not what this story suggests.
It should be. Ever since his debut in Australia, it was clear that Gill was something special. He started sensibly: 45 and 35 not in Melbourne, 50 and 31 in Sydney. His 91 in Brisbane was a turning point. Gill took on the Aussies ahead of everyone else in the fourth inning, showing drives and cross-bat shots and memorably beating Mitchell Starc six. He shook her first. His efforts brought 328’s pursuit within reach for Rishabh Pant and Washington Sundar to take home. The breakthrough of Australia’s Gabba series started with Gill.
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The century in Ahmedabad is not a proof of concept. It was done in gentle conditions, where the occasional ball would deviate from a footprint, but where most sailed on unconcernedly. It just confirms what was already clear: that this kid can hit. He creates shots other players couldn’t, hacking long balls close to his body through cover or midwicket with equal ease. He slices like Meg Lanning, the racquet stops dead when he touches the ball, not an ounce of control is wasted on wasted follow through when playing past the point.
During this game, Virat Kohli was the headliner, as always. The television shows a special about his 15 years in the IPL. When he hit 42, just after Gill was out, he did 4,000 test runs for him in India. The ones on the table before him were the names one would expect: Sehwag, Gavaskar, Dravid, Tendulkar, the Mount Rushmore of the past. Kohli is still present, but not far from joining them. Something must come next. Shubman Gil remains the future.