On the fifth day of the Gabba Test, the brand Shubman Gill had finally arrived. He was, after all, taking on one of the fastest bowlers, Mitchell Starc, on the bounciest deck Down Under, with fielders in the deep. He was hooking, pulling, cutting and stamping his class like a modern-day master.
He was in his own rhythm. Unperturbed by the chase, the bowler, the fielders in the deep, the country, the wicket, the risk, the fact that it was just his third Test - he had no right to bat like that. That was Gill for you. The heir apparent to Virat Kohli. India's next generational batting talent in action. Someone, who many felt, should have played ahead of an ageing Rohit Sharma in 2019. He was showing the class, the temperament, the extra time he had against raw pace. And the future of India after the Rohits, Pujaras and the Kohlis.
Above all, the perfect switch of gears from a patient opener, who could bide time, leave balls outside the off-stump, defend close to his body, to being this dismissive opener, who can play his natural game, the balls on merit and yet score at a strike-rate of 62.33. His 91 off 146 had set-up a historic chase for India. From looking clueless against a world-class Pat Cummins in his first Test innings to such a domination that reminded people of Virender Sehwag, the young opener had experienced the ebbs and flows of Test cricket, and emerged with flying colours ending the series, his first Test series, that too Down Under, with an average of 51.80 against the likes of Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood, and Lyon.
He had passed the big Test. The right-hander might have missed out on a century at the Gabba but with the next series slated to be played at home against England, a century looked inevitable. A big series reckoned. There were high expectations. Gill had sealed his place in the side. He was entering the English series with the confidence of conquering the great Aussie attack, arguably the best bowling attack in the world that too at their backyard.
More than expectation, it was almost considered a certainty that he would score big at home. If Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw can, he looked far more certain, was the general opinion. Also, because it's considered easier to score runs in India. And the way Gill batted in the first innings of the Chennai Test, he was a poetry in motion. Some exuberant shots were on display. He batted really well in the second innings too. But that's pretty much it.
After the first two days of the series, it was a real Test for batsmen and though England didn't have the best of series with the ball, Gill failed to take the series by storm. If anything, this series has gone on to prove, no matter the prevalent general bias, that puts runs on seaming wickets or in SENA countries at a greater pedestal than what comes on spinning tracks, each and every run is hard earned and requires top-notch attributes with a little room for blips to guarantee success.
The 21-year-old averaged a poor 19.83 with the bat after seven innings. He accumulated 119 runs in the series and only once he crossed the fifty-run-mark. If the Australia series was chutzpah personified for Gill, this series exemplified his inexperience and batting flaws. He was worked out by pacers that too at home, getting out to them five times out of six. He got into poor positions. His footwork had been questionable at times, shot selection hadn't been the best and the patience not quite there. It seemed as if Gill has also batted in India to the common perception that runs would be easier to get.
For instance, his first innings dismissal in the Test series opener was reckless batting, which wasn't quite there in his debut series largely. Even in the first innings of the day-night Test, he played the pull shot, a high risk shot on a wicket with a touch of variable bounce. While his dismissals to James Anderson in the series have been owing to lack of proper footwork. Be it the short-stride he took in the Chennai Test or the way he was caught in the crease with a hanging bat on day one of the ongoing Test.
Gill had worked on his front foot defense with Yuvraj Singh as revealed by the Indian great before the Aussie series on advice of Sachin Tendulkar but it still seems to be an area of concern. And bowlers may well exploit his little weakness by setting him up with out-swingers and then target his stumps like Anderson in the fourth Test. He was bowled/LBW four times out of six times this series, three of which were effected by the pacers.
But there's no denying to the fact that Gill is indeed a serious talent and has everything in him to be the next big thing in Indian cricket. Given he's young, there will be times when he will have an underwhelming series or will fail with his weaknesses dominating the proceedings. But good players find ways of conquering the chinks in their armour. Who better than Virat Kohli as an example for that.
Most of the greats of the game have gone through such phases early in their career and returned back stronger and so can Gill. And the classical batter has already shown that he can overcome his weak points and bat with conviction like he did in Australia. He will take his own time to develop into the final product that one can envisage given his enormous talent and top-notch skills with a little more patience from India’s think-tank.
But this series has certainly proved that nothing guarantees success unless one achieves it, as all it needs is one weakness or a few mistakes, and even the most inevitable things flatter to deceive.