@ovshake42 5 minute read
Despite his consistency since 2022, Shubman Gill needed that one innings to be catapulted into the top bracket. The 208 in Hyderabad was that innings.
Gill was not merely the vice-captain of the triumphant Indian team at the 2018 Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand, he was the Player of the Tournament for his 372 runs at 124 and a strike rate of 112. When India seniors toured the same country for an ODI series a year later, thus, the 19-year-old Gill’s selection was not a surprise.
Gill made nine and seven in his two outings, but what stood out from the tour were the words of his captain Virat Kohli: “I saw him bat in the nets and I was like, wow, I was not even 10 percent of that when I was 19”.
Despite the compliment, it took Gill nearly two years to break into the Indian side, in a dead-rubber ODI on India’s historic 2020/21 tour of Australia. A 39-ball 33 bore glimpses of what was to follow in the Test series, where he broke through in the aftermath of Prithvi Shaw’s twin failures and India’s abject collapse at Adelaide.
Gill responded with 45 and 35 not out, 50 and 31, seven and 91. The quicker and shorter the Australian fast bowlers bowled, the harder he pulled. The talent was obvious, unmissable, and suddenly the world could see at the big stage what Kohli had in the nets. Or his father Lakhwinder, who had built a cricket pitch on their farm. The three-year-old boy who used to take his cricket bat to his bed, the 14-year-old who had hit 205, 113, 58, 86 in his first four innings in Under-16 cricket, had come of age.
Yet, by the time 2021 was over, Gill struggled to stay in contention. In four Test matches against England – three of them at home – he made 119 runs at 19.83. He did better against New Zealand (180 runs at 30), but it was not enough. He did not play in the other formats either.
Then came 2022.
A star is born
For most of 2022, the top Test-playing nations did not field first-choice XIs for ODIs, and one cannot blame them: there was a T20 World Cup. Of course, teams still needed to qualify for the 50-over World Cup as well, but with eight berths up for the grabs, it was lower down teams’ list of priorities than qualification for the World Test Championship final. And as hosts, India had qualified anyway.
Thus, Shikhar Dhawan, an ODI great who had fallen out of favour in the other two formats, chaperoned a group of youngsters and fringe cricketers around the world to play ODIs. Dhawan began the year as an obvious candidate for Rohit Sharma’s partner in the Indian ODI side: by the time the year ended, he was out of the squad.
Dhawan has 6,793 runs at 44.11 with a strike rate of 91. Across World Cups and Champions Trophies, his numbers read 1,238, 65.11, and 98. With Rohit, he has put on 5,193 runs at 45.15. These numbers, and the fact that he was a left-hander, could have been enough to look beyond his performance in 2022, when he averaged 34.40 and struck at 74.
Instead, he ended up relinquishing that opening spot to Gill, who amassed 638 runs at 70.88, striking at 103 in 2022. He was rested for the ODIs in Bangladesh, where Ishan Kishan jumped into contention by becoming the youngest to smash a double-hundred – 210 in 131 balls – in men’s ODIs. Gill played the Tests, where he got his maiden hundred in the format.
Back home, India took two uncharacteristically bold decisions. With Rohit available at the top, they left out Dhawan – in the year of a World Cup. And they left out Kishan immediately after that double-hundred.
Both decisions were in favour of one man. It was not an easy choice, but Gill vindicated his selection with a 60-ball 70 in Guwahati and a 97-ball 116 in Thiruvananthapuram, punctuated by a quick cameo in Kolkata. Unfortunately, special as they were, Gill was outscored by a resurgent Virat Kohli on both occasions. And once that happens, you have little chance of grabbing the headlines.
What Gill needed was one big innings that would stand the test of time. That came against New Zealand, a team India have not beaten in men’s ODIs in nearly four years, a side that had beaten India in ICC trophies in all three men’s formats since that defeat, and are currently top of the ODI world rankings.
The next level
The amalgamation of aesthetics and efficiency is never an easy task to achieve at the highest stage, but Hyderabad is the city of the elegant. Mohammad Azharuddin, VVS Laxman, Mithali Raj – they all hail from here.
Gill’s first scoring shot of the match – a caress of a punch through cover off the fast Lockie Ferguson – was an early tribute in the day to the Hyderabadi gharana. At the same time, it failed to remind the New Zealand bowlers how unusually brilliant he was against pace, particularly when pitched short of a length.
He cut, he drove on the up, he pulled, and as the runs came, he looked more and more in control. When Mitchell Santner tossed it up, Gill displayed exemplary footwork and lofted over the bowler’s head. Had Tom Latham caught or stumped him off Michael Bracewell, he would have fallen for another agonising 45. But he lived to tell the tale, slog-swept Bracewell for six, and continued to accelerate.
The records followed. First came the hundred, his third in 11 innings and five months. Then he became the quickest Indian to reach a thousand runs in men’s ODIs. Then he set a new personal highest score. The 150 came up with a six over wide long-on, off 122 balls.
Teammates kept deserting him at the other end. Down to Kuldeep Yadav, Gill lofted Blair Tickner for two sixes in three balls to race into the 180s. Then, in the 48th over, he hit Ferguson – one of the quickest bowlers in contemporary cricket – for three consecutive sixes to race from 182 to 200. So delightful were the strokes that people forgot to blame him for taking Sehwagesque risks in the 190s.
Some fans would have noticed that the first of the sixes took Gill past Sachin Tendulkar’s 186 not out in 1999/00 – the highest score in Hyderabad as well as the highest by anyone anywhere against New Zealand in the format. By the time Gill celebrated the milestone with a quasi-leonine roar, they were busy making room for the youngest double-centurion in men’s ODIs: Kishan’s record had lasted all of 38 days.
It took an outstanding catch to end Gill’s carnage – a word that does little justice to the breathtaking beauty of his batting but how else can you describe a 149-ball 208 that included nine sixes, the last six of which came in 11 balls?
A thousand runs and a bit into his career, Gill seems set for ten times as much. When he does get there, chroniclers of a date not far away will frantically search for videos of this 208 on YouTube or whatever platform comes into existence by then.
It was an innings like that.