Kolkata: Shubman Gill, the young and gifted Indian opener, has already realised that Test cricket can be quite a harsh examiner of one’s technique and temperament. If his highly impressive debut against Australia was being spoken in glowing terms at the beginning of the year, the 21-year-old suddenly finds himself under pressure from other worthy contenders after just one poor series against England at home.
A vital cog in the batting line-up of Kolkata Knight Riders, Gill is still not a part of India’s regular white ball plans and hence is expected to be back in competitive action only in the Indian Premier League (IPL) which starts in India in less than a month’s time. The happy memories of Down Under, where he scored 259 in three Tests in his debut series including a brilliant, counter-attacking 91 which set up India’s historic chase in the fourth Test at Brisbane are still fresh in his memory - he has to shake off the indifferent form of England series (119 runs from seven innings) and move on.
‘‘The feeling of making a Test debut is inexplicable,’’ recalled the shy youngster. ‘‘At times, you go through a sea of emotions which you just make you go numb. It was that kind of a moment (at the Boxing Day Test). Ravi Shastri gave a speech in the huddle and then I received the cap from him. As long as our fielding lasted, I was pretty normal. But when we finally batted and I was taking a walk down from the dressing room to the pitch with the crowd cheering (backing the Aussies, nevertheless), it was an experience of a kind. It felt like going into a war,’’ Gill told the KKR website.
A member of the under-19 India’s Class of 2018 which won the Youth World Cup in New Zealand in 2018, Gill had also scored bucketful of runs in domestic cricket which brought him on the threshold of the national team - but it took him a while to make the cut to the Test team. Like any cricket-loving youngster, he still has cherished memories of the India-Australia battles.
‘‘When I was a kid, I used to get up at 4.30-5 am to watch Test matches in Australia. Now people are getting up early to watch me play, that’s quite a feeling. I still remember my father used to wake up early and so would I just to watch the Australia series. It was a different kind of fun to watch Brett Lee bowl or Sachin sir (Tendulkar) bat.
‘‘All of a sudden, I was playing in that team and Australians were bowling at me. It felt surreal that the world was watching me. I was really looking forward to the challenge and always wanted to play in Australia to experience how it feels,’’ he said.
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How disappointed was it then to not reach the century mark at Brisbane? ‘‘I was getting good starts in the first two matches - was moving into the 40s and 50s. But I really wanted to play a longer knock. I got out on 91 in the last innings. When I was in my 70s-80s I was really looking forward to the 100, but when I got out, I was really disappointed. I was very cautious during those 91 runs and I was waiting to get past the 100-run mark to start opening up and play my shots. But then I got out and it was a huge disappointment,’’ he said.
A major challenge for the opener, whose forte lies in his technical solidity, will be switching between formats. Soon after the slam-bang cricket of IPL, where Gill has been often accused of going slow, he is expected to be a part of the squad for the World Test Championship final against the Kiwis in England in June.
He had been falling to inswingers from the English bowlers in the last series against India - either getting leg before or bowled - and the Trent Boults and Kyle Jamiesons may well have taken a mental note of it.
Time only can tell if Gill can switch gears in quick time - and that’s the dilemma of the modern cricketer.