A red blip in the season of Shubman Gill | Cricket

In case you have missed the Shubman Gill’s viral post on his New Year’s resolution for 2023, here’s a recap: Most hundreds for India, make his “family happy”, give his “best effort and be less hard” on himself, win the World Cup and be the orange cap holder in IPL. These are ambitious but honest targets, and totally in sync with the times where white-ball cricket dominates the international calendar. And while Gill has admitted to 2023 not going according to plan, the absence of a Test-specific goal in that worn out note is a bit conspicuous.

Indian cricketer Shubman Gill during a practice session ahead of the second Test match between India and South Africa, at Newlands Cricket Ground(PTI)

And for good reason too. At a very early age, Gill has ticked off a lot of boxes—youngest to score an ODI double hundred, fastest to 2000 ODI runs and most ODI runs in a calendar year (1584) since Matthew Hayden’s (1601 runs) record in 2007. 2023 specifically has been extremely rewarding to Gill with 1584 ODI runs at an average of 63.36 and a strike rate of 105.45 alongwith 1202 T20 runs at an average and strike rate of 44.51 and 154.30. But in the same year Gill averaged 28.66 in 10 Test innings.

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Now these numbers stand at odds with the widely celebrated white-ball returns of Gill, because he is one of those rare young Indian batters touted to be an all-format prospect. Only, he isn’t a product of red-ball cricket. As a bonafide U-19 star—one who had averaged 124 at the 2018 U-19 World Cup—Gill got a head start in the 2018-19 Ranji Trophy and ended that season as the highest scorer for Punjab, with 728 runs in five matches. Another rewarding Duleep Trophy in the next season, and Gill has hardly played domestic cricket at that level ever since because of a punishing international schedule.

Cut to a situation where Gill hasn’t crossed 30 since scoring a hundred against Australia on a flat Ahmedabad pitch last March, and it might seem a little unfair to expect Gill to grow so quickly in a format that he has hardly played enough in the first place. The thing about Gill is that he probably hasn’t developed the game to grind through a bad session or a great spell, with counter-attacking cricket—pretty much the founding principle of white-ball batting now—being his default mode. Which is why Gabba, 2021 suited Gill’s game so well. With nothing to lose in that seemingly impossible chase of 328, Gill just kept playing his shots.

Maybe he tried to do the same last week. Only at Centurion, the seaming, darting ball can do a number on even the most technically astute batter. Which is why the second-innings dismissal was so Shubman-like, misdirected and flashy, and not at all well-timed. It wouldn’t have jumped out at you had the ball connected. But it didn’t, and hence the criticism.

From an overall perspective, Sachin Tendulkar felt the shot selection left much to be desired. Gavaskar said Gill needs to be more patient. “I think he is playing a bit too aggressively in Test cricket,” Gavaskar told Star Sports. “There is a slight difference when you play Test cricket when compared to T20I and ODI cricket.”

There is an undeniable shift of mentality involved in format changes, a process more difficult to ace considering a heavy white-ball cricket inclined schedule. Even more tedious is the technical aspect of the change. “The difference is in the ball,” said Gavaskar. “The red ball moves a little more than the white ball in the air and off the pitch as well. It bounces a little more too. He should keep that in mind.”

The indiscretions of the red cricket ball are so wide-ranging that sometimes even years of toil at this level don’t seem enough to understand, embrace and occasionally, surrender to it. And while technical modifications are not always recommended once you have graduated to this level, more patience certainly helps.

Problem is, Gill—and by extension this current generation of younger batters—doesn’t have time to go back to domestic red-ball cricket for a bit of course correction. Which leaves Gill very little wiggle room to tackle this small crisis. To be hailed as the next big thing in Indian cricket is an amazing feeling. But Gill, only 24, may also be learning quickly that this can also be a terribly lonely place. For someone still pretty much in the infancy of his career. Gill has his work cut to prove that he is India’s best pick for that No 3 position.

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