When Gill walked off to a standing ovation after a 60-ball 129, it felt like another chapter had been written in his T20 transformation
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Sanjay Manjrekar and Tom Moody on the batter’s third century of the season
Showmen like the big stage. They are at their best when the arclights are firmly on them. They embrace pressure and meet it with the sort of confidence that says, ‘I’m ready’.
On Friday night, Shubman Gill had the stage, and was at his best.
When a thunderstorm sent everyone scurrying for cover before the toss, Gill was pacing up and down the long stairway at the stadium. Perhaps it was the keenness to finish a job he couldn’t quite in Chennai. Or maybe it was simply his way of warming up.
He exuded the confidence of a man at the peak of his game, ready with answers to anything Mumbai Indians were going to throw at him. When he walked off to a standing ovation after a 60-ball 129, you sensed another chapter had been written in Gill’s T20 transformation.
From an accumulator who tried to bat long to make up for middling starts, to someone who goes for quick runs without trying to bash every ball – such a game can’t be without risks, but to have the belief that such risks are worth taking takes quite some doing.
Gill’s batting is a train of simple batting mechanics; one frame segues into another. A stable base, still head, minimal and unexaggerated back lift, and nimble feet movement – quick but unhurried. It’s all proper coaching manual. But beyond everything, more than anything, there’s the calmness – he can send the ball where he wants.
This can only come with clarity, not just in his game but also in the way he trains.
When Rahul Dravid was India Under-19 coach, he had a theory about judging a player’s maturity. One part of it was to gauge how quickly they could develop a routine, even if it was something as simple – or, perhaps, ridiculous – as not batting in the nets prior to a big game, instead of simply following a set of instructions that players can get used to.
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Last week, prior to the game against Royal Challengers Bangalore at M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Gill exhibited a deep understanding of his own routines. He didn’t bat for long in the nets, but the kind of work he put in within that time underlined this maturity Dravid has spoken of.
Gill batted for all of 15 minutes, not longer. The aim seemed to be to train specifically on his set-up against the short ball when it’s aimed at the body from wicked angles. It involved a quick trigger movement from middle to off, and the opening up of the leg side to try and use as much pace from the bowler as he could and pick them behind square. Not in front, mind you, but behind.
The one in front of square is a shot Gill plays as well as anyone. So this was mostly to try and work towards strengthening another aspect of an already robust leg-side game. Twenty balls – same boring routine, of setting up, shuffling and manoeuvring deliveries bowled into his ribcage at different speeds and angles – and he walked out with the satisfaction of knowing his preparation was done.
The IPL is a beast, not least because of the travel and the stream of matches that come and go thick and fast, but because it can be difficult to get in quality training sessions within that whirl. It can leave you on a high when the runs are coming, but when they are not, it can be your biggest bugbear. Which is why Gill’s training method and the sharp nature of it is intriguing.
The game that followed the session was a display of fearless six-hitting that sent RCB packing and, far away, Mumbai Indians soaring. A week on in Ahmedabad, it was the sequel of sorts. It was pure, unhurried and beautiful. And it sent Mumbai Indians packing.
You couldn’t help but will him to keep batting. The home crowd certainly felt that way. Maybe everyone did, except Tim David, who grassed a tough opportunity to reprieve Gill. He was on 30 then. You would never know what could have been had that catch been taken. And that’s the beauty of sport – it’s unscripted and leaves you guessing what’s coming next.
Gill has certainly left everyone in wonder, having peeled off layer after layer to a robust game. Just when you wondered how much more he could unlock, he came up with something you didn’t expect, but have now accepted as perfectly normal.
Like that six off Cameron Green in the 15th over, when you wondered for a split second how he would create something out of a 140kph short ball angled to cramp him. And, next moment, he made you go “wow”. The bat was almost vertical. And he had hit it for six over cow corner.
The bat speed to meet the ball, the wrist work, the forearm power and precision, all boss level.
There was more of this in store.
Like when Chris Jordan thought he had slipped in a perfect wide yorker, only to see Gill convert it into a low full toss by meeting the ball early and then deliberately opening the bat face to send it to the left of sweeper cover. Or when he hit that no-look pick-up shot for six over long leg and sauntered down the pitch to fist bump his partner – a bit of Sir Viv’s gum-chewing swagger.
There was a visual from the dugout soon after Gill got to his hundred. Of Hardik Pandya smiling away looking at the screen that was replaying some of the shots from the innings, his expression almost one of disbelief, even as the rest of the dugout applauded. It was, after all, a knock where Gill pushed the boundaries of his own game.
He had exhibited a full-blown sequel to his Bengaluru epic. Will there be a trilogy in the final?
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo