Despite constant backing from the KKR management, Shubman Gill has failed to fire as per expectations in the last few seasons of the IPL. However, that should not stop the franchise from making him the skipper in the latter half of the tournament if the duo of Eoin Morgan and Pat Cummins are unavailable, writes Sarah Waris.
KKR, if anything, have flattered to deceive in the last two editions of the IPL. One of the most attacking sides on paper with players such as Andre Russell, Pat Cummins, Dinesh Karthik, and Eoin Morgan in their ranks, they have been let down by disastrous decisions, leaving fans with one simple question: Why?
Though KKR had reached the playoffs under Karthik in 2018 and were well-placed with four wins and three losses, the Indian wicketkeeper selflessly gave up the role to concentrate on his batting with Morgan gladly taking over the opportunity.
KKR were only able to win three more games last season and failed to qualify for the playoffs, while they were placed seventh with just two wins earlier this year before the tournament was suspended.
If both Morgan and Cummins (the next-best bet in the captaincy pecking order) miss the second half of the tournament in the UAE, it might not be a bad call to have Shubman Gill as the skipper of the side, despite all the criticism he has received due to his poor strike rate of late.
A mature head with a stellar track record
“Gill is going to be a part of our leadership group this year as well, at least in some capacity,” McCullum said at the start of last year’s IPL. “Even though he is young, I am a big believer that it’s not necessarily true that you having played for a long time makes you a good leader.”
One of the most technically skilled young batters with a mature head, Gill has been bestowed with tremendous praise by Indian skipper Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma after he rose through the ranks following a stellar showing in the 2018 U19 World Cup. Ending the tournament as India’s leading run-scorer with 372 runs, including an unbeaten 102 against Pakistan in the semis, Gill emerged as a force, stealing the headlines from skipper Prithvi Shaw.
His exploits helped him earn an INR 1.80 crore contract with KKR that very year, and he did not disappoint, finishing with a strike rate of 146.04 in 13 games at an average of nearing 34 despite batting at number seven on occasions. Since then, he has gone on to play ODIs and Test matches for India. He displayed all the reasons he deserves the hype after a confident outing Down Under against the likes of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, and Josh Hazlewood late last year.
His calmness against the fiery trio while opening the innings in his maiden Test series and his temperament that allowed him to succeed even in the most critical moments is something that could work in favor of KKR, who are dealing with insurmountable woes. The fact that he was fast-tracked into first-class cricket for Punjab even before playing under 19s speaks volumes of his maturity ahead of his peers. Across different levels of cricket, he’s displayed the ability to remain unfazed in the trickiest of situations. Incumbent captain Morgan, despite his impressive CV, seemed befuddled and over-awed by situations throughout the tourney. Given the situations they often find themselves in, KKR need nothing more than a strong leader who can ride the storm and take his side through.
One for the future
Gill has plenty of captaincy experience for a 21-year-old – he was the vice-captain of the under 19 2018 team, was the captain of the India Blue team in 2019 for the Duleep Trophy. He also became the youngest player to captain a team when he led India C in the Deodhar Trophy in 2019. He has led India A as well, and has time and again mentioned how greater responsibility makes him work harder towards his goals.
In an interview with The Week last year, the cricketer quipped that making him a part of the leadership group filled him up with a sense of “responsibility.”
“My reaction was not that of surprise, but there was a sense of responsibility when I was told about it,” Gill had said. “My personality is such that, the more the responsibility, the better I like it and work for it.”
For all the (largely understandable) criticism he has faced in the IPL, Gill is undoubtedly one of the finest players in India currently, and there is a reason why the franchise opted to back him over the last three seasons. The strike-rate might be a cause of concern, but a part of the bigger batting problem lies with the team’s balance and not exclusively with Gill, the batsman. And it’s important to find that distinction and appreciate the benefits of placing Gill at the helm. A couple of tweaks might change KKR’s batting problems and help bring back Gill’s fluency of old. At this time, it’s imperative to look at the big picture, and back someone who’s likely to be a vital cog in the team’s future plans.
If entrusted with the duties, Gill will have the onus of living up to the trust the franchise had in him over the last few years, and enjoy the responsibility he says he enjoys. It could also give the franchise a fresh perspective, one that might help them turn things around, and it’s often these inspired decisions that lay the groundwork for a successful future. He might not succeed initially, but even if he shows glimpses of his true potential, KKR could do well to retain him ahead of the mega-auctions in 2022, and lay the platform for the franchise’s future.