Shubman Gill
Shubman Gill of the Gujarat Titans is congratulated by Mumbai Indians skipper Rohit Sharma on completing his century during Qualifier 2 in the Indian Premier League 2023 at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on May 26, 2023. The 129 was Gill’s third century in four matches. Image Credit: ANI

It takes just one player to kill off a T20 contest. Shubman Gill did just that on Friday. His third century in IPL 2023 snuffed out Mumbai Indians’ challenge, allowing the Gujarat Titans to waltz into the final.

Cricket may be a team game, but T20 is a different kettle of fish. Individual brilliance can overwhelm rivals. The Indian Premier League is filled with such instances, right from Brendon McCullum’s blitzkrieg in the tournament’s inaugural game in 2008.

In Season 16, Virat Kohli, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Rinku Singh, Cameron Green, Rilee Rossouw and several others have struck match-defining knocks. It’s not just the batters who have impacted the results. Look around, and you will find Deepak Chahar and Akash Madhwal sealing wins with sensational spells.

From plodder to prolific scorer

Gill has become a master at it. The century against the Mumbai Indians was his third in four matches (Only Kohli and Jos Buttler have more tons in a season — four apiece). That’s not all. He’s had some fifties and has consistently contributed to the Gujarat total.

It’s difficult to believe that Gill is the same player who opened for the Kolkata Knight Riders couple of years back. He seldom crossed fifty, and his slow scoring rate was frustrating. Attempts to accelerate the scoring looked clumsy, and he perished quickly.

The move to Gujarat seemed to have transformed Gill’s game. Last year, he looked like an improved version of the KKR batter. He wasn’t rampaging, but there was plenty of positivity. Much of it came from having played Test cricket for India.

The lad from Punjab soon found a footing in the Indian white-ball squad and hit a purple patch. Four centuries, including a double ton, in seven international matches followed as he blazed away in One-dayers in T20 games. Along the way, Gill became the fifth Indian after Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli to score centuries in all three formats in international matches.

The 23-year-old carried the red-hot form into the IPL as Gujarat lorded over their rivals in the league phase to top the points table. Having lost Qualifier 1 to the Chennai Super Kings, the Gujarat Titans were under tremendous pressure when they met the Mumbai Indians in Qualifier 2.

Gill has shown that he thrives under pressure. Even a rain delay wasn’t distracting. Despite a slow start and an early reprieve (Tim David spilt a difficult chance when Gill was on 30). The Gujarat opener scored with ease and elan. After the early trickle, runs began to flow freely as Gill shifted gears.

There’s a calmness about Gill’s batting. At the crease, he’s unhurried. With a short back-and-across shuffle, Gill swiftly moves into his shot. There’s no brute force. Mere timing. A sweet sound emanates from the willow as it meets leather, and the ball speeds away.

It’s an absolute joy to watch Gill rip the attack apart. His strokes seemed more like stiletto cuts than rapier thrusts. Gill’s 129 off 60 balls was a superb exhibition of orthodox batting. Each of his shots came out of the coaching manual (if you ignore the pulls from outside the off stump), and every stroke had the stamp of class. None of the 10 sixes was struck in anger. A high quality knock, indeed.

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With 233 on the board, Mumbai were chasing their tails from the start. The initial blitz was unsustainable, especially when wickets were lost. Suryakumar Yadav kept alive Mumbai’s hopes, but Gujarat seamer Mohit Sharma erased them with a five-wicket haul.

Looking back, the match was won the moment Gill’s ton pushed the Gujarat total over 190. Here’s one man scripting victory long before the game finished. Gill’s run tally of 851 is the third-highest in IPL history after Kohli (973 in 2016) and Buttler (863 in 2022).

Mahendra Singh Dhoni will be chalking out plans to stop Gill. A fifth IPL title for the Chennai Super Kings depends on how they thwart the Gujarat opener. So far, Gill had eluded rival designs to halt him. He has the technique and temperament of a batting genius.

Little wonder, he’s been hailed as the future of Indian cricket. And Kohli’s successor.