Going from swooned over to immensely scrutinized in a matter of a few months, 2021, for Shubman Gill, has been a trailer of the excruciating highs and lows of the game. He is having a forgettable run in the ongoing IPL and the pressure is piling up faster than he could have ever imagined.
“The clarity of Shubman Gill’s plans surprised me. If somebody bowls the short ball at this line and height, this is what I am going to do. If they bowl it from the end where the boundary was shorter, I will pull it for a six. He had all the answers, he knew what he was going to do. I had nothing to say to him. I said, ‘boss, just carry on, you are sorted," Vikram Rathour told R Ashwin on his Youtube channel about Gill’s clarity and mindset on day five of the Gabba Test.
Two things that stood out about young, raw and talented Shubman Gill in the Australia Tests were the clarity of mind and confidence to execute his plans. On the outside, we were witness to the exquisite cover-drives, chutzpah-laden shots through the square and a lot of runs. But it was in the head that Gill had already won over the battle with his solid preparedness, which he manifested in the middle. Now, fast forward to the month of April. The IPL mania. A platform where a galaxy of stars have assembled to fight out in the most competitive league of the world. And from a confident and clear-headed batsman, Shubman Gill has been making waves for his disorganized, unplanned and diffident batting, which in turn has resulted in 80 runs in five innings at 16.
Now, he hasn't turned into a bad batsman per se, in a few months time. Just that his progression in this year's IPL from the last season has gone as terribly wrong as the authenticity of the ‘prank videos gone wrong’ on Youtube. Despite adding solidity at the top of the order, and scoring a bucket load of runs - 440 at 33.85 - Gill's strike-rate (117.96) had turned into a major bone of contention, last year, and rightly so. There was a need for him to speed up his batting because his strike-rate wasn’t up to the mark even by an anchor’s standards.
As a result, this year, like good players do, he has made visible efforts to improve on his intent and strike-rate. He has tried to feed in his inner aggressor that was missing in the league earlier. But instead of progressing smoothly, he has been overcompensating and, as a result, encountering one roadblock after another. For instance, in the game against Mumbai, he had already made 10 runs off the first four balls he faced against Chahar, and batting at a SR of 143.4, neither the required-rate (under 8) was high nor he was batting too slowly, to go for another six.
Similarly against the Royal Challengers, he perished after tonking 14 off Kyle Jamieson's over as he tried to smash another boundary. At the start of that over, the required run-rate was 10.42 and having already got 14, there was no real need for another high-risk shot. Talk about trying too hard. This is a clear-cut case of Gill trying to completely change his innate game, as he’s lacking a set-template as to how to transform into the Gill 2.0 version. That is why he played that awful knock against Rajasthan, where he was all over the place and completely messed up in the head, to the extent that his dismissal came through an attempt to steal a non-existent single.
However, it will be wrong to pin the entire blame on the 21-year-old, as the Knight Riders have also ensured that he has had the rough end of things. They have overestimated his abilities and instead of getting the best out of him, have tried to make up for their failures, by piling up further pressure on a young batsman. Gill has been the only constant at the top, with his partners changing from Sunil Narine to Rahul Tripathi to Tom Banton to Nitish Rana from the start of last season. With so much of chopping and changing, it's never easy to execute plans with full conviction as the role in the team keeps on changing.
This season, Kolkata decided to lock in Nitish Rana for the opening slot once and for all. But he’s also an accumulator rather than a naturally aggressive batsman. Rana's strike-rate (114.4) in the powerplay overs is even poorer than Gill's strike-rate (120.1) and that has tasked Gill to take up the aggressor's role. Barring the SRH game, not even once has Rana scored 10 runs or more in the first six overs with a SR of 116 or more. Classic compounding of problems.
If KKR's plan was to turn an accumulator like Gill into an aggressive opener like Jonny Bairstow/Jos Buttler/Aaron Finch, they planned to fail as players don't change as drastically, especially Gill, who's all but 21. This is where Kolkata needed to plan better and get in an aggressor with Gill at the top, so that he can continue being reliable and make slight modifications to his game. But, with their poor planning, they have created an upheaval in the youngster's mind and that has decluttered an otherwise clear-headed Gill.
But this is where Gill needs to follow in the footsteps of Virender Sehwag mentally. He always listened to people (coach, captain) but always did his own thing, as established through several anecdotes from his career. Every individual knows what works for him and what doesn't at a basic level and that's why they are playing at the Indian level or the IPL. And Gill needs to follow his instincts, right now, more than ever, if he wants to arrest his slump
Not to forget, there have been flashes of brilliance this season from the bat of Gill. Be it the way he was striking the ball against Mumbai or his onslaught against Kyle Jamieson. Perhaps, he can follow a similar player like him, for example, Virat Kohli, who's a world-class accumulator. He takes a few deliveries early on and then finishes with a flourish. Or if Gill backs himself to start quickly, like he has shown this year, the ability to mix caution with aggression and build an innings like a certain David Warner does.
No one expected Gill's SR to shoot up from 117 to 150 in one year. And so shouldn’t he. It's about keeping the natural game intact, and making gradual, important changes that will help him become a better player. He's no stranger to assessing things well and making smart game plans. The classy batsman just needs to do that right now and he should be back with a bang, playing those characteristic cover drives, audacious hooks and pulls, brimming with confidence, and impacting the game in a way he can do the best.