In a short video of India’s netting sessions for the tour match against Leicestershire, Shubman sees Gill and Rohit hitting Sharma side by side. Gill, most likely to open with the captain in the Edgbaston test, saw Sharma leaning into a ride in awe. He tried to do the trick again, but was defeated, because the ball wasn’t as full as he expected. He shrugged his head thoughtfully, observed Sharma for a second or two and then leaned into a drive himself, this time between the ball and you could hear the clatter that echoed as the ball crashed into one of the posts, and applause from his teammates, or maybe the support staff.
The same stroke that produced two different results also sums up his testing career. For most of his 19 Test innings, he looked like a part, with the stride and gait of a confident young man, undaunted by the rigors of Test cricket, but one ready to take on the world. No hassle, no hesitation, no self-doubt. Yet his career was start-stop, staggering then stable. Premature injuries contributed — a span of time in which Sharma and KL Rahul cemented their place — as did his own inability to turn four of those stroke-laden half-century into a three-digit knock. The 91 in Brisbane would hurt him the most – it could have been as mythologized as Ajinkya Rahane’s hundred in Melbourne, but for those just nine runs. He was devastated and cursed himself as he dragged himself to the pavilion.
Then he is every time he gets out, even if he has scored half a century. There’s that incredulous grin, a resigned gaze to the sky, and an inconsolable walk back to the pavilion. You often see him walking straight to the video analyst, pads on and his discharge dissected, fingers to lips. And after a while you might see him by the nets, taking throws from the reserve bowlers, as if that missing Test hundred is chasing him, shuttling the difference between him in and out of the team like a second choice opener instead of claiming his permanence .
However, the time is right. Gill comes straight from a rich form of mold in the IPL. It was not only his most successful (483 runs out of 34) but also the one he was most influential in, one in which he found the formula to hit T20 cricket without messing with his fundamental game. One in which he hit almost as he does in Test cricket, but at the pace required by T20 (a strike rate of 132). He showed a masterly command in handling various situations. After his 59-ball 96 – another century wasted – against Punjab Super Kings, Gujarat Titans captain Hardik Pandya told the host broadcasters: “He has told the host from the start that he is here. His confidence has motivated the whole team. This is the Shubman Gill we all want to see.” That was the first game of the season and Gill kept his form until the last game, the final, in which he went unbeaten at 45.
Among his admirers was former coach Ravi Shastri: “He is pure talent. That man is one of the most talented players in this country and in the world of cricket, to be honest. Once he’s up and running, he’ll score and he’ll make it look easy. He’s got that punch, he’s got the time and he’s got the power to clear the ground,” he told Star Sports. So did a myriad of others.
As good as he’s been, England isn’t an easy place to tour, especially for a one-off test, against a re-motivated James Anderson and Stuart Broad. His only Test in England – the World Test Championship final against New Zealand – was less than memorable. Both of his vulnerabilities were exposed. Because he often plays from the leg stump, he ends up playing on the leg side of the ball, which gives him a tendency to poke and grope outside the stump. Because he tends to get into the fold, he sometimes rides out of the fold or rises, both self-destructive habits in England.
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The way he’s lined up at the crease, an on-the-up punch or a press-back is easier. The weight transfer to the front foot is not so easy and drags him into awkward positions.
As a result, he often suffered from the ball swinging away or even holding the line. He also tends to play with his forefoot when he wants to tap. The error is magnified in England, where the ball swings late, and Broad is a nip-backer performer.
How he resolves those glitches could determine if he finally gets his hundred and nail a permanent place on the team that suits his talent. And that cover drive could be the trick that makes it or undoes it.