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England v India

With the Brisbane glow fading, Shubman Gill needs to kick on soon

Gill Test
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read

Shubman Gill burst onto the scene after making his debut in Australia, but his returns have dropped since. It won’t be long until the clamour to make another top-order change begins, writes Aadya Sharma.

When Shubman Gill, in just his third Test, was cutting, pulling and driving Australia’s pace battery with ridiculous ease in Brisbane, many wondered why India’s newest superstar did not have a sponsor on his bat. Maybe they just couldn’t afford him; the combination of youth, crisp strokeplay, technical perfection and chutzpah to burn make the Indian a priceless prospect. In any case, the bare piece of timber did the job handsomely, laying the foundation for India’s riveting fifth-day, series-clinching chase with a stylish 91.

Six months since, Gill’s bat has a shiny sticker once again, but the runs haven’t been flowing quite as easily. After he guided India to a series triumph in Australia, Gill has just one 30+ score in nine innings. His Test average after his debut series stood at 51.80, but has now dropped to 31.84.

Despite the 20-run drop, there’s little reason to be critical of the 21-year-old, who seems to possess all the attributes required of an accomplished Test opener. There hasn’t been any obvious flaw revealed in his game yet; rather, he’s been guilty of falling just when he looked set to make his way to a big one.

Gill knows a thing or two about going big in first-class cricket, a format in which he averages 58.34. He already has seven centuries and a best of 268, while just before he earned his Test stripes, Gill had hit an unbeaten 204 against New Zealand A on India’s 2020 tour. Gill’s career so far has been a spectacular upward graph, and there’s surely plenty more milestones waiting in the future.

That said, Gill’s recent dip in form, while not yet alarming, will put a little more pressure on him to put a substantial score next to his name. He’s expected to start the England series as the first-choice opener, but each failure will now be viewed with more scrutiny, for competition in this team is relentless.

Ask Prithvi Shaw, the same age as Gill and no less talented. The Test before Adelaide (where he succumbed to scores of 0 & 4), Shaw had hit a breezy half-century in Christchurch, a series in which only three other Indians crossed fifty. Before the Australia series, Shaw’s Test average stood at 55.83, but the jolting twin dismissals in Adelaide led to his instant axing.

Gill is better placed no doubt, and doesn’t suffer from the technical deficiencies that were apparent in Shaw’s case, he would be wary of the manner in which his U19 captain was swiftly forgotten.

The immediate competition for Gill from within the squad comes largely from Mayank Agarwal, who was, until a year ago, Indian cricket’s new big find. Mayank’s form plummeted after a wonder debut year: since his double-century in November 2019, he managed just one fifty at the top of the order in nine innings. Gill too has one fifty in his last nine knocks.

The upcoming England series will be a stern test for Gill, especially because specialist Indian openers have struggled on recent visits. The series is likely to be dominated by the ball. Batting collapses won’t be uncommon and will put even further load on Gill and Rohit Sharma to weather the early storm. Waiting on the sidelines is another opener, KL Rahul, who might not have played a Test in two years, but gave a good impression on India’s previous tour to England, shrugging off a poor start to score 149 in the concluding innings of the series.

There’s also Hanuma Vihari, a well-equipped red-ball batsman, itching for a recall. Primarily a middle-order batsman for India, Vihari rose to the one-off challenge of opening in Australia, demonstrating restraint and solidity and keeping out 111 balls across both innings. He’s the sort of batsman who can be invaluable in tricky English conditions when silence can do more than a flashy willow.

But Gill is still India’s future poster boy, a silent rockstar with both punch and pluck. All he needs is one big innings to quell all doubts. But until he finds his next ‘Brisbane’, each middling knock will only intensify the whispering questions around him and raise the hopes of fellow contenders around him. Gill will need to show resolve, and India might too, to stick with a player who they have rightly identified as being something special.

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