Quick on the uptake, Shubman Gill breaks new ground

Tom Latham called for a risky single after pushing the ball to cover. Shubman Gill cut the angle down promptly, but took his eyes off the ball and fumbled the run-out opportunity. Rohit Sharma wasn’t impressed, making his disappointment known with a facepalm. It was, in all likelihood, the only moment during the series opener in Hyderabad when an action of Shubman Gill became the source of someone’s frustration. Otherwise, the exquisite gems that pinged off his willow had left the city of Nizams awash with cricketing ecstasy.

In his Telugu pitch report, ex-state player Tirumalasetti Suman said batting first at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium was akin to having a panduga, which means a festival. It was indeed the case till the ball retained the lacquer as Gill and Rohit dealt in boundaries to stitch their third fifty partnership in the last four innings. New Zealand last played an ODI without Trent Boult and Tim Southee against a top-ranked team back in 2016, and the inexperience of Blair Tickner and Henry Shipley translated into a promising PowerPlay for India. Lockie Ferguson’s raw pace doesn’t make him the ideal candidate for the holding job, but his 20 dots in a four-over spell bandaged the wounds to an extent.

New Zealand’s spin attack wasn’t watertight either in the absence of Ish Sodhi, who injured his ankle in Karachi. Michael Bracewell was featuring in just his 17th ODI, although he’d later revive a dead chase with despotism that belied his rookie status. It was down to Mitchell Santner more or less to apply the brakes on India’s rampage, and he duly strung together a couple of dry overs that handed Tickner the wicket of Rohit. Pace variations of the left-arm orthodox coerced Virat Kohli into going back to a delivery better negotiated off the frontfoot, but Gill was adamant not to let Santner settle into a rhythm. He helped a drag-down on its way to beat backward square leg and put his dancing shoes on to launch a boundary over the non-striker’s head.

”Sometimes when the bowler is on top, you have to get them under pressure. Because if they are not feeling any kind of pressure, it’s easier for them to create more dot balls. So that was my plan, you know, when the bowler is trying to get on top of me, just try to hit the gap, hit it hard, show some intent to the bowler,” he observed.

Gill raised fifty with the cleanest of slog sweeps while Suryakumar Yadav blazed off the blocks with three boundaries that were as gorgeous as they were conventional, an adjective not often associated with the maverick. The last of the lot, however, came through a misfield. For a team that prides itself on its groundwork, New Zealand were rather unprofessional on the park, with Tom Latham missing a catch and stumping simultaneously to reprieve Gill on 45, Shipley grassing his return catch on 122 and Bracewell diving over the ball to mar the quietude Daryl Mitchell was trying to establish in the middle phase.

The gift of timing Gill is blessed with leads to immense power behind his strokes, and thus containing the flow of runs between overs 11 to 40 with four fielders on the fence is a tough ask. Sample the off drive that Bracewell failed to intercept. The weight transfer into the shot was clinical, generating pace that the trundler didn’t offer in the first place to render the ring porous. Elite batting talent, however, is a double-edged sword. In their young international careers, Prithvi Shaw and Ishan Kishan have been, at times, guilty of getting ahead of themselves and taking a uni-dimensional approach based on boundaries.

Gill too has caved in to the temptation until recently, evident from the conversion issue, but he is firming up strike-rotation to not only reduce the dot-ball percentage but also the dependence on the big hits to keep the show going. Seconds spent at the other end gathering myriad thoughts and giving oneself a pep-talk facilitate smarter decisions, thereby increasing the longevity of a knock.

One such brainwave was to attack Santner, who found the counterpunch disorienting. He erred on the shorter side to invite brutish pulls and short-arm jabs as Gill reached his second consecutive ton, off 87 balls. In the process, he completed 1000 runs in 19 innings, the fastest Indian to the landmark by a distance with Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan consuming 24 each. Thanks to Gill’s firm foot on the pedal, India motored ahead even when Kishan and Hardik Pandya took their own sweet time acclimatising to the dual-natured surface.

An aspect of Gill’s game that hitherto remained under the wraps was range-hitting, but the prodigy aced the test with the onus on him to unleash the fireworks at the death. He set up a strong base and lofted with a straight swing the deliveries in the slot. Ferguson’s attempt at cramping him for room resulted in a waist-high freebie that Gill swung away for a six behind square. The green tick on that box as well speaks volumes of his burgeoning potential.

“I was waiting very eagerly to, you know, go out there and do what I want to do. And with the wickets falling, you know, there were times when I wanted to unleash. But I got my moment when we had the last three or four overs left and I wanted to get some sixes under my belt and I’m happy that it paid off today,” remarked Gill, the youngest batter to score an ODI double hundred in men’s cricket.

”It feels nice when, you know, you’re wanting to do something, when you’re wanting to hit the gaps, when you’re wanting to hit the sixes, and it’s coming off on a regular basis. There’s definitely some kind of satisfaction in that,” he added.

The prospect of ending up on the losing team despite making the highest individual score versus New Zealand in the format put in Gill’s perspective the sheer magnitude of his effort. “I mean the double ton sunk in pretty well, you know, when Bracewell started hitting those sixes,” Gill wisecracked, “and the game went closer than what I expected. But yeah, this is definitely one of those things. This is what dreams are made of.”