The fact that India won't have Virat Kohli for major part of the four-match Test series against Australia comes across as a huge blow for the side. But, it is also a great time for one of the top ranked Test sides to blood in youth in form of Shubman Gill, who is vying hard to make his Test debut.
Aged 20, an average of 72.15, a strike rate of 74.84, four hundreds, eight fifties, a highest score of 268, knocks of 90 and 92 against South Africa A; replacing KL Rahul, a big reputation, in the form of his life, it seemed Shubman Gill's stars had aligned in the best manner possible when he received his maiden Test call-up for the home series against South Africa, last year.
But it was not to be as India decided to go a step back and open the batting with a 32-year-old Rohit Sharma sans any credible red-ball performance after he was ditched from India's Test side overlooking all good Gill had done in the lead-up and of course the youth factor. Expectantly, Sharma scored a bulk of runs in the home summer to cement his place.
From then onward, Shubman Gill has been patiently waiting for his chances as a back-up middle-order batter/opener. With Shaw coming back and opening, Gill had to warm up the bench in New Zealand despite scoring runs, proving his class yet the team was cramped for places. Even the Tests against Australia would have been no different, but then Virat Kohli pulled out of the last three Tests against Australia, opening up a middle-order slot. While that might be disaster for Indian fans, it's a god send opportunity for the 21-year-old Gill.
A solid technique and an unflappable temperament
There are a lot of batsmen who score runs at domestic level but what separates potentially good players from the average is the way they do so. I mean if you have seen Gill play that Kohli-esque short-arm jab pull in 2018 U-19 WC, which even got the highly inactive BCCI social media compare the two that was just a trailer.
A silken grace, dollops of brute power, sturdy wrist-work, an uncomplicated and compact technique, stillness and fraction of extra second to play raw pace and a great balance at the crease - Gill is a special batsman. He tends to shuffle slightly against the moving ball, and has this ability to get into good positions steadfastly, which helps him negate seam/swing well and also there is very less gap between his bat and pad that reaps fruits for him. He also gets on the top of the bounce that is needed in Australia.
Ajay Ratra, Punjab's coach when Gill made his Ranji debut had noted, "Gill has so much time in his batting. Even if the bowler is bowling quite fast, you won't feel that Shubman is being hurried into his shots. He has got a good balance as a batsman and he can convert good deliveries into runs too."
Veteran Indian and Punjab spinner Harbhajan Singh had also outlined that, "Gill can the pull the ball in-front of square. Pulling through deep square leg is not difficult but you need to be tall with supple wrists to keep the ball down while pulling in-front of square. Shubman has that." No wonder, there's so much of hype around Gill as he is a supremely skillful player.
A talent, backed by even better performances
Hailing from an obscure Fazilka, Punjab; Gill didn't have the glamour and blitz of Mumbai cricket growing up. That despite he was was recipient of BCCI's 'Best Junior Cricketer' (U-14 and U-16) award' in 2013-14 and 2014-15, same time when Shaw had turned into this teen sensation around the globe with his Harris Shield 546. But he proved his mettle in 2018 U-19 World Cup, bettering even Shaw and from there on, he has gone from strength to strength.
After 21 First-class games, the stylish right-hander has 2,133 runs to his credit at 73.55 with a strike-rate of 73.37, and has seven hundreds. A domestic player's biggest test is when he tours abroad for India A, and there as well, Gill has heaped a mountain of runs. Last year in Trinidad, with a double-century for India A against Windies; he became the youngest Indian cricketer to score double hundred in First-class cricket. He was the leading run-scorer in the whole series.
A cool and calm Shubman carried his great form in swinging New Zealand conditions, earlier, this year, as he again made a double-hundred and emerged as leading run-scorer in India A vs New Zealand A unofficial Tests, making 423 runs in three innings scoring 83, 204* and 136. Interestingly, he strikes at more than 70, and believes in putting back the pressure on bowlers, much like Kohli does.
The biggest roadblock
With the Indian Test team, we see this issue of making changes that aren't needed and not being able to drop those, who should be. Case in point - India kept backing KL Rahul as opener despite his low string of scores to a point that it became ridiculous, that too with a certain Mayank Agarwal knocking the doors for longest time possible. The moment Mayank got his chance; he showed why it should have been earlier. In fact, even having Rohit Sharma as an opener, on back of white-ball exploits is as debatable especially given his age and a well known poor technique in swinging conditions.
Now, with the limited-overs series coming up, let's admit it won't be a surprise if KL Rahul takes everything by storm given his great white-ball run this year. And this will give rise to temptation of having him as replacement for Kohli and not Gill, which we have seen in Indian cricket too often. I mean, how on earth could KL get into Test side otherwise if not for his IPL run? Fact remains, despite a century Down Under, Rahul averages 20.78 after five Tests in Australia and he just has a hundred and a fifty each in the last 15 Tests he has played, with the fifty coming against Afghanistan.
So, it would be a gentle request to Indian team management to stop confusing formats like they do be it playing Dhawan in T20Is because of his ODI exploits or dropping Dinesh Karthik from T20Is as he failed in 50-overs format. All formats have different demand. PERIOD
Let Gill become what he deserves to be
Virat Kohli became the Test player that he is because he was backed by a certain MS Dhoni in 2011/12 Australia tour where he made a career shaping century in Adelaide in 2012. If Gill is sidelined just because Rahul does well in preceding limited-overs series or some practice games or because he has successfully failed in Australia Tests earlier, it would be a crying shame. This is the best way to judge a player's caliber, play him in the toughest of spots, back him, give him the belief and that's how players are made.
We have to admit that barring Pujara and Kohli, hardly anyone steps up in SENA countries, including Rahane who fails mostly, yet keeps playing. Kohli, Rohit and Pujara, three of India's top four are all 32 or more and aren't getting any younger. And this can be a tour where India start building up their middle-order for future by blooding youngsters like Shubman Gill in the side, who are ready to shine and are just wanting for the right chances to show the world that Indian middle-order batting can be more than just Kohli.