Red ball or white, Shubman Gill has shown he can deliver in his fledgling career. So it didn’t surprise that he marked a return to Tests from injury with a compact half-century, his fourth.
At the Green Park in Kanpur on Thursday, the 22-year-old batter from Punjab took 32 balls to stroke his first boundary, off left-arm orthodox spinner Ajaz Patel, but didn’t look back after that on way to making 52. His 93-ball innings had five fours and a six.
Taking a short stride, Gill kept playing with soft hands in the beginning and opened his account with a single off the last ball of the innings’ first over.
After losing fellow opener Mayank Agarwal early, Gill’s 61-run second-wicket partnership with Cheteshwar Pujara helped India get through the first session.
Kyle Jamieson broke through his defence soon after lunch and, speaking to reporters after stumps, Gill termed that spell form the New Zealand bowler as “top notch.”
The opener said he had fallen to reverse-swing, which he hadn’t expected “that early in the game.”
Gill dealt with New Zealand’s spin duo of Patel and Will Somerville comfortably and attributed that to playing Ravichandran Ashwin Ravindra Jadeja in the nets.
“If you are already playing two of the best spinners in nets, especially in India, it does help. You have a much better chance of going in the middle of the match and trying to handle those crucial periods of time,” he said.
The shot that stood out was Gill using his feet to get to the pitch and smash Patel’s flighted delivery over long-on for a massive six. He survived an early wobble when the new ball swung; an inside edge saved him once he was lucky that New Zealand did not opt for a review when Gill was on six.
But having ridden out that storm, Gill played an array of confident shots. This is a comeback game for Gill who was ruled out of the England tour with a left shin injury. He would have batted at No. 4 in the absence of regular skipper Virat Kohli but an injury to KL Rahul led to Gill opening — something he does for Kolkata Knight Riders for whom he has 10 half-centuries in the IPL — with Agarwal.
“I have opened for (my) state team, India A in first-class matches, in other countries, I have batted in middle-order as well, it’s more on the mental side rather than technique.” said Gill.
Gill and Agarwal had opened in Australia last year after India rang in the changes following the debacle in Adelaide. In Melbourne, Gill’s authoritative 45 was crucial in settling the nerves of a team which had scored 36/9 when it had last batted. There was a near run-a-ball 35 in the second innings as India came back to level the series.
Gill got 50 in Sydney and featured in a 70-run opening stand with Rohit Sharma. And at Gabba, he made 91 in the second innings as India won by three wickets.
In the most arduous of formats and on the most testing of tours, Gill had shown he belonged at this level. He was a constant in Rahul Dravid’s plans in the 2018 under-19 World Cup—Gill scored fifty or more in all matches, hitting an unbeaten century against Pakistan and finished as India’s highest scorer with 372 runs.
Dravid is now the senior team coach and Gill said “it does make a difference when you have played age-group cricket under him.”
Watching Gill play with confidence former New Zealand pacer and commentator Simon Doull said on television: “I think Gill has changed a couple of things. He’s no longer getting back across. He’s staying beside the line of the ball, almost like when he was playing in that U19 World Cup in New Zealand.”