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India v Sri Lanka

Why not selecting Shubman Gill makes sense for India

Sarah Waris by Sarah Waris
@swaris16 5 minute read

Shubman Gill was not selected in India’s XI for the first Test against Sri Lanka, and while the decision might seem bewildering, with Gill one of the most highly rated young batters in the world, Sarah Waris explains why it makes sense.

Shubman Gill broke into India’s Test team on the historic tour of Australia in 2020/21, taking on the responsibility of blunting the new ball at the top of the order in the absence of a number of mainstays. His technique and his skills against genuine pace marked him out as a player for the future, and his knock of 91 at Gabba, which set the foundation for a win for the ages, displayed his temperament in the toughest conditions. Overall, Gill ended the tour with knocks of 45, 35*, 50, 31, 7 and 91, facing 427 deliveries to suggest he was a batter with the talent to succeed in all conditions.

His performances prompted then-skipper Virat Kohli to proclaim that the side was looking to give Gill, along with Rohit Sharma, whose Test turnaround started from the series Down Under, a “long rope” as openers in the series against England at home. True to his words, Kohli fielded the duo in all four Tests, but while Rohit carried on his form from Australia, with his 161 in the second game on a tough wicket the peak of a series in which he was by a distance the standout batter, Gill’s showing left much to be desired. While he did make 50 in the first Test, he failed to cross 30 in his last six innings. But his blip looked to be fading as he emerged as one of the bright sparks for India in what was an otherwise disappointing World Test Championship Final against New Zealand in England a few months later.

In cloudy conditions and against an attack featuring Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Kyle Jamieson, Gill was at the top of his game, though the scorecard might not present the best picture. He only made 28 and eight in the two innings, but stood tall for 108 and 48 minutes respectively, to see off the initial threat. Within six months, Gill had transformed from a fringe player into a first-choice opener, but an unfortunate spate of injuries, coinciding with KL Rahul grabbing his chances, now sees him struggling for a spot in the XI.

Gill up against Mayank, Vihari and Iyer

The omission of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane for the Test series against Sri Lanka opened up two slots in the middle order. The absence of Rahul due to injury also meant that Mayank and Gill were tussling to be the second opener in the side. There was also an option to play Gill in the middle order. However, that was not to be, as the management went ahead with Mayank as the opener, with Vihari and Iyer at Nos 3 and 5, respectively.

What worked for Mayank: Pure numbers and Mayank’s superiority against playing spin. Gill was given an opportunity in the home Tests against New Zealand last year, and though he made three 40-plus scores, his technical flaws came to the fore. His inability to carry on and get a big score was in contrast to Mayank’s showing in the series, with the Karnataka batter making 150 and 62 in the second Test at Mumbai. With Rohit and Gill both absent for the tour of South Africa due to respective injuries, Mayank was asked to open, and a 176-ball 60 in the first innings at Centurion helped him move up in the pecking order.

Mayank also had a batting average of 83.90 at home before the series against Sri Lanka, while Gill’s read 26.30, and the former was always expected to edge ahead.

What worked for Vihari: Vihari has been around the Indian circuit for a while, faring well consistently in overseas conditions. Before the Test against Sri Lanka, he had played just one match at home and 12 away. The limited appearances, however, were not because of his lack of skills but due to the stiff competition and possibly because the Indian selectors had shortlisted him for overseas duties. Vihari, however, stood tall time and time again, including in the recent A series against South Africa in South Africa, where he made 25, 54, 72*, 63 and 13*.

Vihari had faced 1,603 deliveries before the first Test against Sri Lanka in 23 innings, facing an average of 70 balls per innings, and his knack of staying put at the crease allowed him to come in as Pujara’s like-for-like replacement. Vihari also bats at No.3 for his state team in the Ranji Trophy, and having a relatively experienced player, who is accustomed to the demands of the role, makes better sense overall for the team in the long term.

What worked for Iyer: Iyer’s No.5 spot was a position where Gill could have batted, with Aakash Chopra quipping during the New Zealand series last year that he “doesn’t look like a Test opener to me” and that “he is a middle-order batter.” However, Iyer had more game time heading into the series and is in excellent touch as well. He had scored a Test hundred on debut in a tough situation in Kanpur against the Kiwis, and his last five knocks read 73*, 74*, 57*, 25 and 80.

Iyer, often called a white-ball player, has an average of over 52 in FC cricket with the help of 13 hundreds and 24 fifties in 96 innings, with a high score of 202*. The Indian team might also be considering Gill only as a backup opener in Tests, and dropping an in-form player to accommodate a cricketer who has not played in the middle-order for the country might not have found support.

Gill is a hugely talented player, whose time in an India shirt will surely come. But for now, he’s a little way down the queue, and when you examine it, you can see why.

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